Lindsey Clarkson went from parked to perfection.
A year after watching her team's playoff elimination from the bench, Clarkson delivered the performance of her life in a storybook ending to her three varsity seasons at Central High.
Clarkson pitched the first perfect game of her career, retiring all 21 batters to lead the second-seeded Grizzlies past No. 4 Clovis West 4-0 in the Central Section Division I final. It was Central's first softball championship and only the second section title in any sport for the school's girls programs.
And make no mistake, the seeds for Clarkson's masterful senior season — she went 19-3 with a 0.72 ERA and 184 strikeouts in 126 innings — were sown from that seat in the visitor's dugout a year ago during a 1-0, 10-inning loss to EL Diamante in the semifinals.
"That definitely pushed me a lot," said Clarkson, The Bee's Softball Player of the Year who is headed for NCAA Division II Cal State Monterey Bay. "I wanted to play more and be in the game."
A late slump where the hard-throwing right-hander struggled in five of her final seven starts prompted Central coach Scott Gorton to put the ball in Rachel Rodriguez's hand for the Grizzlies' final two playoff games last season.
That led Clarkson, who had pitched the majority of Central's innings during her first two seasons, to train even harder for a senior year where she would split time in the circle with Rodriguez.
Clarkson relied heavily on her riseball and curve early in her career, but with improved command of her screwball and changeup this year saw a jump from 6.8 to 10.2 in her strikeouts-per-seven-innings rate and a drop of 0.58 in her ERA from 2011.
"She's always been a pretty good pitcher, but this year she went above and beyond that and was dominant most of the year," Gorton said. "She just took the team on her back. The confidence she had coming down the stretch was unbelievable."
After being used sparingly as a hitter during her first two seasons, Clarkson worked hard to prove to Gorton she deserved a spot in the batting lineup as well.
Clarkson was a combined 1 for 16 as a sophomore and junior, but hit .458 (27 for 59) with four doubles and 13 RBIs as a senior, including an RBI single in the D-I final.
Gorton started Clarkson in the No. 9 hole, but kept moving her up in the lineup the more she hit. She eventually settled in at No. 6, contributing seven hits and five RBIs in three playoff games.
"Sometimes when you’re just pitching and not hitting you don’t feel like you are in the game entirely,” Clarkson said. "I think that helped me."
Gorton, who first started coaching Clarkson in middle school, agreed.
"It had a huge effect on her," Gorton said. "I know that helped her pitching, too. Having success on offense bolstered her confidence on the mound."
Clarkson's confidence hit its peak in the D-I final as she unleashed a 76-pitch gem against Clovis West that started with a called third strike to three-time Bee All-Star Amber Mills and ended when a hard line drive by Madison Clark deflected off Clarkson's glove straight to shortstop Jilee Schanda, who fired in time to first baseman Brittny Embrey.
In between, Clarkson faced only two three-ball counts while getting four strikeouts, four groundouts and 11 flyouts.
"I was there mentally. I was ready to go," Clarkson said. "Our whole team was extremely pumped up for that game. I think my team really helped push me through it. If I didn't have them, I wouldn't have had the perfect game."
Athlete of the Year: Lindsey Clarkson
She's qualified because: Led Grizzlies to the school’s first Central Section softball championship, firing a perfect game and delivering an RBI single during 4-0 win over Clovis West in the Division I final. That capped a season in which Clarkson was 19-3 with one save, a 0.72 ERA and 184 strikeouts in 126 innings and hit .458 with four doubles and 13 RBIs. The Cal State Monterey-bound Clarkson went 44-21 with a 1.14 ERA and 396 strikeouts in 379.2 innings in three varsity seasons.
Also considered: Sierra Hyland, El Diamante. Followed her selection as The Bee’s Player of the Year in 2011 by going a section-best 30-2 with a 1.02 ERA and 312 strikeouts in 200 innings and hit .468 with 14 doubles, three triples, eight home runs, 36 RBIs and 34 runs for the D-I semifinalists.