Clarkson thrives at last to bat

WKU second baseman Leiff Clarkson mishandles a throw as Rice’s Grayson Lewis steals second safely during Friday’s game at Nick Denes Field in Bowling Green, Ky. The Owls swept the Hilltoppers in the three-game series over the weekend, beating WKU by scores of 11-4, 3-2 and 3-2. Nick Wagner/HERALD

John Reecer

For the average baseball team batting order, the best hitters are usually found in the leadoff or cleanup spots. 

The WKU baseball team, however, has drifted away from this model as the play of redshirt sophomore second baseman Leiff Clarkson has significantly changed the complexion of the Hilltopper lineup. 

“I could’ve easily of moved him up in the order,” Head Coach Matt Myers said. “He and (Anderson) Miller complement each other nicely. There have been times this season where that combo has helped us win games.”

Clarkson is currently second on the team in batting average as the Union native currently has a .326 average through 38 appearances on the year. But Clarkson has done so in an unorthodox matter—he bats last in the Hilltopper lineup. 

“It doesn’t matter where I bat; I just try to stick to my approach and do my job at the plate,” Clarkson said. “I’m not a power guy and I don’t try to pull home runs. I just try to hit the ball up the middle and get on base because I got those big bats in the top of the lineup behind me.”

Those big bats he refers to are well-known Hilltoppers such as Miller and Ryan Church. However, it has been the quiet play of Clarkson that has proven to be vital to the triumphs of the team. 

“That kid (Clarkson) has been a big part of our success this season,” Myers said. “Up until this point Leiff has done such a good job playing in front of Miller and our other big bats. Now with him putting up big stats, he creates a problem for opposing pitchers.” 

This problem could not be made possible without Clarkson routinely finding a way to come through for the Hilltoppers time and time again. 

With his consistent hitting, Clarkson is often the beneficiary of many runs as the big bats find ways to hit him in. 

One particularly noteworthy occasion occurred during the second matchup between UK and WKU of the year. Clarkson was up to bat with the Hilltoppers down 3-1 in the ninth inning. 

“We were down to our last strike and I got a base hit and then Miller hit the home run to tie the game up,” Clarkson said. “It was a defining moment for us as a team because it showed us that we are never out of the games no matter what the score is.” 

Moments like that are what Clarkson specializes in. He knows what his strengths and weaknesses are and plays within his capabilities. The sophomore has zero home runs on the year along with only 11 RBI’s, but he is amongst the leaders on the team in terms of batting average, hits, on-base percentage and runs scored. 

During his freshman campaign, Clarkson found playing time only after Cody Wofford went down with an injury at shortstop. After his play proved to be valuable in relief of Wofford, he then found a home at third base for the remainder of the season. 

After a preseason battle for the starting spot of second base with Thomas Peters, Clarkson got his chance to prove his wealth in a starting role for good, and he has done just that. 

“I was playing all three positions and I didn’t know where I was going to play—it just so happened that my name was in the starting lineup at second base,” Clarkson said. “We are just hoping to get to the conference tournament and hopefully winning it… I just want to continue to get better and progress as a hitter and a fielder so I can be at my best to help us win some games.”

Myers maintains that Clarkson earned his position in the starting lineup, and points to his performances this season as a reflection of why he made that decision. 

“He has exceeded expectations so far in his time here,” Myers said. “He has earned every bit of what he has and I’m proud of him because is such a hard worker. He just comes out and competes and he is definitely a model player to follow.”