Clatterbuck making noise in varsity softball debut with Hawks

Skyline's Lexi Clatterbuck swings the bat prior to stepping into the batter's box during the Class 3 state quarterfinals held Tuesday evening in Front Royal. Rich Cooley/Daily

FRONT ROYAL – During Skyline High School’s end of the year sports banquet last year, head coach John Ritter stood up to address the members of his softball program.

He offered a message, he recalled on Wednesday afternoon, that was targeted directly at the members of the Hawks’ JV team, which had just romped its way to a one-loss campaign in 2017. Among those on that squad was eighth grader Lexi Clatterbuck, and Ritter’s pitch was specifically delivered to the ears of those like the up-and-comer who could potentially see action at the varsity level the following year.

“I made the comment last year at the awards banquet and said, ‘hey JV team, you went 17-1 but I’ve got a couple open spots,'” Ritter recalled. “‘Whoever comes, go play all the ball you can play this summer. Play it in the fall, come back bigger, better, faster, and you’ll get an opportunity.’

“And she did it,” Ritter added of Clatterbuck.

It’s now a year later, and Clatterbuck is one of the youngest – and yet one of the most vital – pieces on a Skyline squad set to clash with unbeaten Tabb in the semifinal round of the VHSL Class 3 state tournament at noon on Friday in Salem.

The team’s only freshman before Skyline’s postseason promotion of a couple JV players, Clatterbuck has managed to chisel out her own space in a lineup flush with three-year varsity starters thanks to a consistent bat and a dependable glove.

She took over as the Hawks’ everyday second baseman four games into the season, and by the midway point Ritter was regularly penciling Clatterbuck into the cleanup spot. She was a second-team selection on both the Class 3 All-Northwestern District and All-Region 3B teams after batting .446 (25-for-56) in the regular season, and has appeared unfazed by life on the big stage even as the games have grown in magnitude.

“I just try and trust myself,” Clatterbuck said of achieving so much varsity success so quickly, “because I know I’ve worked hard my whole life, so I know it’ll happen.”

Clatterbuck, who is batting .400 (6-for-15) with three extra-base hits in four playoff games this spring, was groomed for success at the high school game’s highest level through a dedication to softball that began when she was 5 years old. By the age of 8 she was playing travel ball with the Front Royal Fire, an experience Clatterbuck said has made the game simpler while the Hawks as a group trudge through previously unknown territory.

“Travel’s definitely helped a lot because we always see good pitching,” Clatterbuck said. “It’s probably even a little bit better pitching, so it definitely has helped. And the competition is always helping, too.”

That’s why Clatterbuck has been able to record at least one hit in each of Skyline’s postseason games thus far.

She collected a pair of hits – including a double – and an RBI in a 27-0 drubbing of Manassas Park in the Region 3B quarterfinals on May 25. She tallied two more hits, including another double, six days later in a win over William Monroe in the regional title game.

In Tuesday’s state quarterfinal win over Southampton, Clatterbuck drove in three of the Hawks’ four runs, including a two-RBI triple in the bottom of the first inning that set Skyline on its way to its 11th straight victory.

“She’s been really good and I think she’s surprised at the opportunities that she had, and she has done really well with her opportunities,” Ritter said. “To get thrown in the mix and be the new kid – with this group, I think that her big help was the girls took her all in really well, and the whole infield has bonded really well and everything like that with her.”

Clatterbuck agreed that the Hawks’ knack for welcoming their newcomers has eased the transition from JV to varsity.

“It gives you a lot of comfort knowing that we’re all just a good little family. They definitely have tried very well to make me feel like a part of the team. And I do, I feel a part of the team,” she said.

“It makes you relax and it just makes you play better.”

As good as Clatterbuck has been with the bat, she’s been solid with the glove as well. She began the season as the Hawks’ designated player, then had a brief stint as the team’s third baseman before moving to second as part of a defensive shift that sent junior Alana Smith to center field.

“She’s very good defensively,” Ritter said of Clatterbuck. “When you play this game your middle’s gotta be strong and with Alana moving and her going in (to play second), and being a young kid and a freshman – because Alana played very well there. (Clatterbuck) took it all in stride. Her fielding percentage for the year was good. It’s been good for her.”

Clatterbuck has flashed the glove this postseason. Against William Monroe in the regional championship, she made a diving grab for the game’s final out. In the win over Southampton she was perfect in five fielding chances and made a nice play to smother a sinking line drive for a 4-3 putout in the top of the fifth to preserve what was, at the time, a perfect game for Skyline pitcher Tamara Grayson.

“It gives you a really good feeling. I remember the William Monroe game, I made that diving catch at the end. That made me feel so good,” Clatterbuck said. “Just knowing that you’re helping and participating is a really good feeling.”

Clatterbuck is hoping those positive vibes continue on Friday in the state semifinals.

“Going to states as a freshman is definitely a dream come true,” Clatterbuck said. “It just would be really fun to finish it and win it.”