By Dave Morrison
Given that he missed his entire freshman due to the coronavirus shutting down spring sports across the state, it would be understandable if Independence’s Clay Basham experienced the ups and downs typically experienced by freshmen in his sophomore season.
Given that he plays on one of the top teams in the state, led by two of the top Class AA prospects in juniors Michael McKinney (North Carolina State commit) and Atticus Goodson, who some think could be a future MLB draft pick, it would be understandable if Basham took a typical backseat to his better known teammates.
Clay Basham is not a typical player. He started the season going 2 for 2 with four runs and two RBI in the season opener against Westside and has not slowed down. He has driven in runs in 15 of 19 games. He had seven RBIs in one game against James Monroe, with two doubles and a triples.
All the sophomore has done is lead the area in hitting (.586 going 34 for 58) and runs batted in (46). His numbers are also tops among state leaders.
He has taken advantage of hitting behind Goodson and McKinney in the lineup by being on the of the state’s top RBI guys with 46 in 19 games, an average of 2.4 per game.
His teammates have noticed.
“He’s really shown up for us,” McKinney said. “He’s leading us in average right now hitting, he’s pitching very well. He’s been big.”
Oh yes, the pitching. Basham is 4-1 on the mound and leads the team in strikeouts (38) and earned run average 0.85. After absorbing the team’s lone loss in a midseason defeat to Greenbrier East he went out and gave the team six strong innings in relief (three hits, an unearned run and 10 strikeouts, seven of the nine outs in extra innings were recorded by strikeout) in the Patriots 8-5 win in 10 innings.
His coach has noticed, too.
“I knew he was going to be a good player but normally it takes a kid a year to get going,” head coach Scott Cuthbert said. “I think when he got to play in the Epling (High School League at Epling Field in Beckley) it helped. He’s really bought in and listened real well. He’s been a real gritty player for us.”
Independence, 18-1 and atop the state in the Metro News Class AA poll, opens Region 3, Section 2 play hosting Liberty Tuesday evening. In the other section opener Nicholas County is at Shady Spring. On the other side of the Region Westside hosts Wyoming East and PikeView is at Bluefield. All games begin at 6 p.m.
All the early success came as shock to the mild-mannered Basham, a fitting name for a player who is atop so many hitting categories. But he has settled in and is now just going about his business on the diamond.
“I was definitely a little but surprised but now that I’m in my groove it feels good,” Basham said. “I feel like all of the practice that we put in over the winter and last fall has really helped me a lot to get here.”
Basham said he studies veteran players like McKinney and Goodson who have become leaders on a team that is still young, with only two seniors, Hunter Schoolcraft and Caleb Daniels among the every day starters. Schoolcraft, who is 5-0 with a 2.17 ERA and 30 strikeouts in 29 innings, is the only senior among the top four starting pitchers.
“It really feels nice having them as leaders on this team and knowing that they will be there to back me up if I need it,” Basham said. “Just watching those two alone has really taught me a lot this year.”
Cuthbert said Basham tries to do all the little things so some of his top numbers go unnoticed, like committing just three errors in the field and, probably the most impressive, striking out just three times, only once looking.
Basham isn’t the only Patriot hitting well. McKinney is hitting .467 with four homers 25 RBI and 32 runs and a team-best 16 walks. Goodson is hitting .446 with 36 runs, 14 RBI as the leadoff hitter and three home runs. Andrew Lester and Caleb Daniels are both hitting above .400. So deep the the Independence order that Elijah Farrington, who typically hits in the bottom part of the order, is the second-leading hitter at .482 and has scored 23 runs. Carson Brown is tied for the lead with Basham for the team lead in doubles (7) and triples (2).
As a team the Patriots are hitting .409 average 12.1 runs per game and have a 1.66 team ERA.