Photographs by Andy Shupe
Shiloh Christian junior leadoff man Connor Clark is one of the hottest hitters in the state heading into the Saints’ game against Nashville in today’s Class 4A State Championship.
Friday, May 19, 2017
FAYETTEVILLE -- Spotting Connor Clark before today's 4A State Championship at Baum Stadium will be easy: He'll be the Shiloh Christian player not wearing a Saints' cap.
Baseball players and they're superstitions.
At A Glance
SCHOOL Shiloh Christian
POSITION Third base/Pitcher
NOTABLE For the past 20 months, Clark has worn prescription white-framed Oakley sunglasses while playing baseball. The experience of eye exams and all that entails piqued Clark’s interest in pursuing a career as an Optometrist after his baseball playing days are over. Clark also enjoys skeet shooting as a hobby.
"I wear it before every game," Clark said. "It's a Columbia fishing hat with red letters on it. I don't know. It gets me in the zone. It's a superstition and I've been wearing it ever since I started hitting the ball better, so I keep doing it."
Indeed. It's worked wonders. Clark, a junior who bats leadoff for the defending state champs, enters today's 3 p.m. game against Nashville as one of the hottest hitters in the state. In three state tourney wins, he has eight hits to push his batting average to .400 with 26 runs, 20 RBIs and a team-high 31 stolen bases this season.
Teammates, like close friend Michael Connolly, have noticed Clark sporting his lucky hat beyond the ballpark.
"He wears it up until pregame," said Connolly, a junior who drove in three runs in the state semifinals and is batting .419. "Everywhere we're at, on and off the field, during practices, he wears it. Out to eat, he wears it.
"He's very superstitious about this stuff and hopefully, it'll pay off in the championship and we can win."
Clark is 9-0 with a 2.36 ERA as a pitcher but junior right-hander Landon Brown (8-1, 1.69) will get the starting nod today. As effective as he's been on the mound, Shiloh Christian coach Moe Henry said Clark is more valuable in the field because of his quickness and sure-handed glove at third base, where he's helped turned two double plays.
"I think we're better defensively," Henry said. "Connor just brings so much for us on the defensive side when he's there."
Henry moved Clark into the leadoff spot because of his "consistency and leadership," and the lineup switch has paid off. Clark said a change in approach also has been a catalyst in heating up offensively.
"Earlier in the year, when I struggled, I was trying to hit the ball hard to the fence," Clark said. "More recently throughout the season, I started trying to keep a flat bat path and make sure that everything is flat and hard line drives. And I've started hitting better since I started doing that."
As defending state champions, the Saints (25-7 overall) have played with targets on their backs all season. Returning to Baum Stadium, of course, was a goal, but the ultimate goal is to repeat. Two seasons ago, Shiloh Christian finished as state runner-up. The Saints lost twice in tournament finals during this postseason, first in districts and again in regionals, but all of that will be forgotten with a win today.
Despite a third straight trip to the state finals, Clark believes butterflies are sure to set in before the first pitch.
"It's going to be good because we will be nervous," Clark said. "I think it's a bad thing if you're not nervous because if you're not nervous, you don't care. And we all care about this game. It's going to be good because all of us on the team, we've all have experience, so most of us will be prepared for the challenge of it.
"It's going to be fun. I'm excited to get out there."
Sports on 05/19/2017
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