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Hot Seat: Oakridge’s Maddie Clark lifts softball teammates, blasts home runs

Senior cleanup hitter, a first-team all-stater last year, provides pop to a team with 32 long balls on the season.

MUSKEGON — After earning first-team all-state honors last season, sometimes Oakridge senior slugger Maddie Clark feels as though she’s being viewed through a fishbowl.

On the topic of aquatic life, Clark likes to use the gold fish lesson with sophomore sister Gracie Clark, who also is an impactful player for the Eagles’ softball team.

“She’s always saying, ‘Be a gold fish,’ which is just, ‘Forget about it after 10 seconds.’ … Let everything go after a mistake or after something goes wrong, just 10 seconds and flush it,” Gracie Clark said.

It hasn’t always been easy this spring for Maddie Clark to follow her own advice, but she’s still trying to produce and to be that upbeat teammate, helping to keep others’ spirits up.

The 18-year-old daughter of Heather and Ken Clark Jr., is definitely delivering on the field for an Oakridge team that is again enjoying a lot of success.

Clark, a starting first baseman and left-handed cleanup batter, is hitting .394 this season (37-for-94) with four doubles and seven home runs. She has 46 RBIs and 13 walks. her slugging percentage is .660, on-base percentage is .459, and OPS is 1.118.

As a team, Oakridge has blasted 32 home runs. The Eagles (24-9 overall) wrapped up another West Michigan Conference Lakes Division title with a sweep of visiting Montague Tuesday night, going unbeaten in their 10-game divisional slate and outscoring those opponents by a gaudy 132-6 margin.

“We need her. We need that (upbeat attitude) because we have a lot of girls who are just kind of even-keel. We lost Dre (Romero-Serrano to graduation last year), she was kind of that girl,” Oakridge coach Joe Coletta said about Maddie Clark. “When she graduated, Maddie’s kind of stepped into that role and the leadership of our team.

“She does a great job, she just sometimes puts way too much pressure on herself to perform and her anxieties are kind of self-induced because she wants to do so good for the team so badly. I wish she wouldn’t, but that’s just how she’s wired.”

Photos by Scott DeCamp | CatchMark

Coletta believes that a lot of Clark’s pressure derives from her trying to duplicate her all-state season of 2023.

Last season, Clark batted .452 with nine doubles, four triples, and seven home runs. She had 46 RBIs and 46 runs scored, Her slugging percentage finished at .783. At first base, Clark boasted an impressive .986 fielding percentage with 203 putouts and two assists in 208 total chances.

Clark has a lot going for her. The four-year varsity softball player carries a 3.846 GPA and she’s planning to attend Muskegon Community College on The Promise Scholarship. After MCC, she intends on heading to Grand Valley State University for its stenography program and specializing in vascular ultrasounds.

Clark said she is on the fence about playing softball at MCC.

“Maddie Clark is a huge part of our team with all the bombs that she hits all the time. Maddie brings a light to the team because she’s super energetic and she’s really funny. She makes practice fun,” Oakridge senior teammate Ahria Doorbos said.

“She’s very bubbly and she loves to make jokes and to be funny. She knows how to make us laugh and bring us up when we’re down.”

Photos by Scott DeCamp | CatchMark

Coletta said that Clark is the “jokester” of the team and “very excitable,” and she’s that way in school, too.

As a coach, it’s nice for Coletta to know that on the field Clark is capable of running into one — when she hits homers, they tend to travel a long ways.

“I’ve seen her hit some balls way over that pavilion (beyond the right-field fence at Oakridge) in practice,” he said.

Clark has battled injuries at different points of her Oakridge softball career. She’s been dealing with a labrum issue in her throwing shoulder since her freshman year.

More recently, her hamstring has been bothering her. In last week’s doubleheader against Orchard View, a trainer was wrapping Clark’s hamstring but she refused to be taken out of the game. She wanted to hit, of course.

Healthy or not, Clark has big goals for Oakridge. She is serious about the Eagles winning Division 2 district and regional titles, and then seeing how far they could go after that.

Whenever the season ends, Gracie Clark said she will miss her big sister and the moments they’ve shared on the softball field, in school, and everywhere else.

“She’s a really hard-working girl and it’s nice having her on the team — a good role model for the younger girls and just other girls in general. She puts in a lot of work and shows what should be expected. She’s a hard worker,” Gracie Clark said.

“She just wants to be the best. She wants to be good enough for her and she wants to impress everyone and she wants to be a leader.”

Oakridge softball sisters Maddie Clark, left, and Gracie Clark pose for a portrait between games of a West Michigan Conference Lakes Division doubleheader against Montague Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in Muskegon, Mich. (Scott DeCamp | CatchMark)

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