SANDY CREEK Sandy Creek softball coach Bill Fowler looked around at his summer league opener on Tuesday, and for the first time in a decade, he didnt see Chelsea Claflin.
Ive played for him since seventh grade and before that with travel ball, and Im definitely going to miss his coaching. Hes the best coach around, Claflin said. Im looking forward to playing college ball, but Im going to miss this tight-knit group and the community that Ive come up with.
Claflin spent six years with Fowler on varsity, the last five as his ace in the pitching circle, and she was his team manager for four years before that.
The senior is just two weeks removed from her best season in that 10-year span, a campaign that has resulted in the honor of Times All-North Most Valuable Player in Frontier League softball for the second straight season.
Chelseas pretty special. She hasnt shied away or backed down from anything since the minute she came up, Fowler said.
Claflin entered the season with heavy expectations after a highly successful junior year. In addition to the Times All-North MVP award, she was named to the all-state first team in Class C after leading her team to the state quarterfinals.
She made it no secret that she intended to top her gaudy statistics and lead Sandy Creek further into the state tournament, saying that the teams lone goal was a state title during a Times season preview interview.
And true to form, she lived up to it.
Claflin finished her final high school campaign with a 0.36 earned-run average (improved from 0.58 last year), and didnt allow an earned run until the Section 3 overall Class C title game. She struck out 199 batters (up from 169 in 2012) in 116 innings and tallied 88 Ks in the teams seven-game run through sectional and state playoffs.
She again finished 16-2, with six shutouts and an average of 0.56 walks and hits per inning pitched. Add to that a .377 batting average, 17 runs batted in and 11 stolen bases.
She drove in nearly triple the amount of runs that she was charged with giving up. Her 25 runs scored is more than four times the amount of earned runs she allowed.
Claflin led the Comets to a 23-2 season that included their second straight league and sectional titles. She led them to the state championship game, where they suffered a heartbreaking 2-1 loss on a close play at the plate.
Our main goal was a state championship, but to make it to the finals of the states, Id say we made it pretty darn close, said Claflin, who will play at Division II Le Moyne College next season. We could have lost in regionals again or not even made it there, but we did, and I think that Im just proud of my team for that.
Claflin and Fowler both believe that her success has as much to do with what she did as a manager in her younger years as anything else.
I remember her having big wide eyes, and I had to be careful what I said around her sometimes because she really was a sponge. She took everything in and you didnt have to tell her twice, Fowler said. She was very inquisitive, she would always ask, Well why did you do that?
Claflin, as many players do, said she will miss the bond she formed with Fowler and her teammates more than pitching in the big games and garnering awards.
It was a team so comfortable with each other that Fowler once bit a hang nail off the finger of senior third baseman Kendra Valley because they couldnt find clippers before a game.
I was talking to my own daughter yesterday about this group, and how its more difficult even than when she graduated, Fowler said. And thats because, and I know it sounds like a cliché, but I kind of grew up with them. Ive been with them most of my life.