Free State’s Tatum Clopton named Gatorade Kansas Softball Player of the Year
photo by: Carter Gaskins
It was a sensational spring for Free State sophomore Tatum Clopton.
Clopton enjoyed her first full year in the circle, helping the Firebirds secure a second consecutive state title. Clopton baffled opposing hitters all year and did not give up a single run in her five postseason performances, including three shutouts in the Class 6A state tournament.
On Thursday, Clopton was rewarded for her play and made history in the process. She was named the Gatorade Kansas Softball Player of the Year. It marks the first time a player has been picked for this honor from Free State’s softball team since the program was formed in 1997.
“We have had good teams in the past, we just haven’t had that level of a pitcher in the circle,” FSHS coach Lee Ice said. “One of the things I have always told the kids about postseason awards is that it happens because of the success of the team. I think she would be the first person to compliment them. Without them, some of this recognition wouldn’t happen.”
Free State certainly accomplished a lot this year, and that’s a credit to Clopton’s dominance in the circle. During the state tournament, Clopton whiffed 30 batters across 21 scoreless frames in three games. She only allowed two batters to reach third base en route to wins over Olathe Northwest, Olathe North and Washburn Rural last weekend.
Clopton was supported by stellar defensive plays from Georgia Rea, Taylor Burks, Macy Miles, Sara Roszak, Lauryn Jones and Emma Stanwix during three competitive contests. Free State secured a state title for the second year in row, though last year’s run came as an eighth seed.
“The first one, we were not expected to do that,” Clopton said after the state championship game. “This was stressful for some people. It was always tight, it was always a competitive game. Last year was more fun because we were just up there having fun. We knew we were not supposed to win it and if we didn’t, it would have been OK, we always had the next year. This year, we had a target on our back. We were always doing something to the best of our abilities.”
Clopton led the Firebirds to a 23-2 record this season. She posted a 16-1 record with a 0.52 ERA. Clopton struck out 212 batters and walked 15 in 107 total innings of work. As a hitter, Clopton also recorded a .357 batting average with 21 RBIs and 30 runs scored.
This season, Clopton threw 11 shutout performances and tossed five perfect games.
“I don’t know if I expect it,” Clopton said following a perfect game in the regional championship. “But I do expect myself to pitch the best I possibly can every time I go out and pitch. And if that involves throwing a perfect game or a no-hitter, that’s what it is.”
Clopton is the No. 11-ranked recruit in the Class 2021 by Softball America. She has verbally committed to Oklahoma State, and also has a 3.76 GPA in the classroom.
“She’s been pretty consistent,” Ice said. “What she did at the end was not much different from what she did at the very beginning. The level of competition got better in the last five games. For her to be able to duplicate that in a three-game stretch in the state tournament was outstanding.”
The Gatorade Player of the Year program annually recognizes one winner in Washington, D.C., and each of the 50 states that sanction high school football, girls volleyball, boys and girls cross-country, boys and girls basketball, boys and girls soccer, baseball, softball, and boys and girls track and field. It awards one National Player of the Year in each sport, according to a news release from the company, and the softball national winner will be announced in June.
Previous Softball Gatorade Players of the Year from Kansas include Lauren Mills (2017-18, Seaman High School), Mady Young (2016-17, Olathe Northwest High School), Ryleigh Buck (2015-16, Wellington High School), Brittany Finney (2014-15, Bishop Carroll Catholic High School) and Allison Stewart (2013-14, Olathe East High School).
With two state titles and a prestigious honor under her belt, there is no telling what Clopton and the Firebirds can accomplish over the next two seasons.
“It will be interesting to see how our team responds and what incoming freshmen come in because we are losing a bunch,” Clopton said. “Yes, it brings the pressure. Every year is different and every team competes differently. I think we have to wait out until next season to see what we have.”