Holly Clark is one of those fourth-year varsity softball pitchers whose career spans precociousness as a freshman before adding well-rounded skills as a senior.
Opponents have faced the Jordan-Matthews ace bound for Charleston Southern enough times to know that she didn’t arrive at this point on talent alone.
“I’ve never been a kid that could rely on throwing it by people,” Clark said. “I have to spin the ball a lot. When I learned to spin the ball, my wanting to learn more about pitching took off from there. I liked seeing what you can do with the ball coming out of your hand a different way.
The 5-foot-8 Clark is 20-1 with a 0.46 ERA this season as the Jets (23-1) seek a return to the N.C. High School Athletic Association 2A state final for the second time in three years.
With Jordan-Matthews’ 5-1 win Saturday over Beddingfield, the Jets advanced to the third round. They face North Johnston at 7 p.m. Tuesday at their home field in Siler City.
The Jets were the 2014 runner-up when Clark struck out 280 batters and was the N&O Player of the Year. She was one of the Fab Five sophomore starters along with Alestra Lask, Dee DeChristofaro, Caroline Webster and Kaitlin James.
But last year when the Jets seemed to be rolling along with a 25-0 record, they lost in the third round to eventual state champion South Granville. Over the offseason, Clark said the returning players realized they didn’t appreciate their sudden 2014 success.
“We have a lot of motivation from what we went through last year,” Clark said. “We had the wrong attitude and were determined to make this year different. We saw our potential our sophomore year, but the team wasn’t clicking last year.”
Now seniors, Clark has a group photo on her Twitter page (@Holly_Clark4) of the quintet with game-ready eye black and determined countenances.
Work ethic, with or without added motivation, has long defined Clark.
“After our practices, she’ll stay to pitch some more on her own,” Jordan-Matthews coach Chris Mote said. “She is motivated to be as good as she can be.”
Mote is only in his third year as Jordan-Matthews’ softball coach, but he has been a Chatham Crush travel ball coach for years. He also has a long history with Clark’s family that goes back to his own Little League baseball days in Siler City as a teammate with Holly’s father, Mark.
“I never coached her when she was young because she was on different age group teams from mine, but I remember she was always working on her pitching,” Mote said. “She was getting pitching lessons and working every day.”
Clark’s progression has made Mote’s job simpler.
“She’s added pitches and is a smarter pitcher,” Mote said. “I call the pitches, but now she can tell me before the game what’s working. During the game she can tell me what’s not working or she’s got it working again after a couple innings.”
Clark credits her parents, Mark and Angie, for her willingness to put in the work – particularly her father for the many hours he spent sitting on a bucket to catch her pitches. Mark was a high school pitcher at Jordan-Matthews.
“Both parents were encouraging, but my Dad was a pitcher, so we connected on that level,” she said. “We’d go out in the front yard and he’d catch ball after ball on that bucket.”
Soon enough, Jordan-Matthews had a four-year ace on its way to campus.