Sarah Kaya was 10 years old when she decided she wanted to be a softball pitcher.
She figured that out while watching a college game on TV. Mesmerized by the pitchers, she turned to her father and said she wanted to try that.
Little did she realize that seven years later she would be a first-team All-Ohio softball pitcher and part of a talented senior class that hopes to bring Clearview its first district championship in the sport.
The transformation from a young girl learning to pitch in the Lorain city recreational league to a high school senior who needs 339 strikeouts to become Lorain County’s all-time leader in that category came from her year-round dedication to the game.
“If you want to improve your game and take it to the next level, softball never really ends,” Kaya said. “All year I’m lifting weights, running and pitching to get myself ready for the season.”
The results of Kaya’s hard work can be seen in her strikeout totals. She improved from 181 strikeouts her freshman year to 293 as a sophomore and to 340 in 174 innings a year ago, when she also threw a pair of no-hitters.
Sarah enters her senior year with 814 strikeouts. Vermilion’s Megan Meyer, who pitched from 1998-2001, holds the county record with 1,153.
“The first time I saw Sarah pitch in sixth or seventh grade I could tell she was a special talent,” Clearview coach Denny Myers said. “But what really makes her so good is her work ethic and her willingness to learn and improve her game.”
In addition to being named to the Division II All-Ohio team, Kaya was also a first-team all-district pick and the Lorain County Division II co-pitcher of the year. But none of those individual awards motivate her. She lets team success do that, like the Clippers winning the Patriot Athletic Conference Stripes Division title in 2012 for the school’s first conference championship.
A year later, the Clippers advanced to the district final before losing to Firelands.
This year, the Clippers are out to take the next step and advance to the Division II regional.
“Winning a district championship is really one of our biggest goals,” she said. “We really feel like we have unfinished business at districts from last year. That would mean all of our hard work paid off in the end.
“We have a great group of seniors who have been together since we were playing catch in front of the middle school in seventh grade. It means so much to share our successes with each other.”
Kaya, who has yet to make a college choice, isn’t the only standout talent on the Clippers.
Second baseman Sarah Stambol, who will be playing at Baldwin Wallace next year, batted .357 last year while earning first-team all-county and all-conference honors. Third baseman Chelsea Kincer and center fielder Katelyn Jones were also second-team all-county selections.
“In the seventh and eighth grade it was just fun and exciting to be on a softball team,” Kincer said. “Even though we’ve done so much hard work, it’s still kind of a shock to know we’re up on the same level now with the great softball programs in our conference like Keystone, Firelands and Columbia.”
Myers said the Clippers have beefed up their schedule this year, playing tougher non-league opponents — they open the season March 31 against Avon — to help them get ready to compete for a conference and district title.
Don’t expect the tough competition to have an effect on Kaya’s demeanor in the pitching circle.
“Some pitchers are very dramatic and you can see it on their face if they’re struggling,” Myers said. “Sarah, you can’t tell if she just struck out a batter or if someone just hit a home run. She’s very calm and cool and doesn’t let anything rattle her.
Her teammates see that and it helps them stay focused, too.”
Kaya agrees with her coach’s assessment.
“Not a lot gets to me,” she said.
Kaya said her summer ball experience helped prepare her for pressure situations in high school games.
“I’ve been in a lot of big games and tough spots, so at this point there are no more nerves,” she said. “It’s all 110 percent effort and focus.”
Although there’s still an entire season ahead of her and her teammates, Kaya took a minute to reflect on her journey from learning to pitch with her father, Jeff, at Lorain’s Lakeview Park to becoming one of the top pitchers in Ohio.
“When I was 10, I was so in the moment just enjoying being out on the field,” Kaya said. “Then I worked so hard to get to this point because I wanted to play in college and wanted to push myself to be the best I could be. Now that it’s my senior year, I would like to just get back in the moment again and go out there and have fun with my teammates that have shared the last six years with me.”
Stambol summed up the thoughts of the entire Clearview team when she said she’s excited for the season to get underway.
“I’ve been waiting for this since summer,” she said. “I’m excited to be back and I can’t wait to start playing again and see how all of our hard work during the winter pays off.”