FSHS softball standouts Tatum Clopton, Sara Roszak sign NLI to rival Big 12 schools
photo by: File art
It was only fitting that Free State softball seniors Tatum Clopton and Sara Roszak signed their respective national letter of intent on the same day.
Clopton, a pitcher who has been verbally committed for nearly three years, signed her NLI to Oklahoma State University from home Wednesday morning with only her family in attendance. Roszak, a versatile infielder and prolific hitter, had her own signing ceremony at home in the evening and will continue her softball career at the University of Kansas.
“It means a lot because I’ve just known her for so long,” Roszak said. “We’ve known each other since fourth grade. We’ve played with each other and against each other. It is pretty competitive between both of us, but we are always proud of each other and super supportive.”
Even though a pandemic prevented the two softball standouts from having a ceremony in the FSHS gymnasium, it just made sense that they both signed on the same day. After all, the two players have been a big reason why Free State won its first and second state titles in program history in 2018 and 2019.
Because the 2020 spring sports season was canceled, the Firebirds won’t have the opportunity to go for a four-peat this upcoming spring. But it will still be the last season that Clopton and Roszak are teammates before they have epic battles against each other at the collegiate level.
“We’ve been playing together since we were 14 and we’ve known each other since we were probably 10,” Clopton said. “The fact that we are both here now, and (signing) to Big 12 schools, was a very surreal experience. I’m grateful that we get to play each other every year.”
For Clopton, signing day has been a long time coming. She verbally committed to Oklahoma State on Dec. 26, 2017, which was actually before she ever threw a pitch at the high school level.
The early commitment was always part of her plan. Clopton wanted to commit before her dad, Aaron, went on his deployment. She also knew there was going to be a rule that prevented recruits from being contacted before their junior year, so she wanted to get it done before that rule was put in place.
After an unofficial visit to Oklahoma State during homecoming week in 2017, Clopton just knew it was the place for her.
“It really gave me a sense of culture down there,” Clopton said. “I don’t think any other school could have matched that and that’s exactly what I was looking for.”
Clopton didn’t have any intentions of going to a different Big 12 school growing up, however. Her mom, Sarah, was a pitcher at KU and a letterwinner during the 1996, 1997, 1999 and 2000 seasons. Aaron Clopton is also a former pitching coach for Kansas softball.
Both parents were there Wednesday morning to see Tatum Clopton officially become a member of OSU softball. They all then ate pancakes, bacon and eggs before going off to school.
“This was the perfect signing ceremony for me and our family,” Clopton said. “It was a really special moment. It was just a very small, intimate signing.”
Clopton, who is a two-time Gatorade Kansas Softball Player of the Year, posted a 16-1 record with a 0.52 ERA during her sophomore season. Clopton struck out 212 batters and walked 15 in 107 total innings of work. Clopton threw 11 shutout performances and tossed five perfect games.
“I knew really early that OSU was the place (for me),” Clopton said. “I can’t wait to go and start working down in Stillwater.”
Roszak, meanwhile, has decided to stay in town for life after high school.
After originally committing in November of 2019, Roszak made her collegiate plans official by inking with the Jayhawks. Her signing ceremony featured her family, some of her close friends and a few select coaches.
“I would have loved to have everybody from the school that I know,” Roszak said. “At least the people that I’m closest with, and the people who have really seen what I have done and gone through, (were able to) be there.”
Roszak spent about two months in the recruiting process looking for a place that she felt at home. Roszak said she really likes the fact that many of her friends and family members will be able to attend her games in college.
Roszak expects to be a middle infielder at KU, and will likely play second base.
“I started realizing in the back of my head I was looking for a ‘KU but somewhere else,” Roszak. “I just remember one day (thinking) if I’m looking for KU somewhere else, there is one right here in the town I live in. It’s just right here. How could I miss out on this opportunity?”
In her last official high school season, Roszak made a number of incredible defensive plays from her shortstop position. Her best defensive play was a diving grab near the foul line with two outs in the bottom of the sixth during Free State’s 1-0 win over Washburn Rural in the state title game.
Roszak also finished with a .447 batting average during her sophomore season. She recorded 34 RBIs on 34 hits, finishing with eight doubles and five homers. Roszak only went back to the dugout via a strikeout three times in 76 at-bats.
After missing out on a third state crown in as many years last spring, Roszak hopes to end her FSHS tenure with one last title run with her teammates.
“That was pretty heartbreaking that we didn’t get to have that season last year,” Roszak said. “We are all just that more excited to go and play and compete for state again. This year is definitely going to mean a lot because it is my senior year.”
Zeke Mayo signs to play basketball at South Dakota State
Lawrence High senior Zeke Mayo also signed his national letter of intent on Wednesday.
Mayo, who already made his verbal commitment earlier this fall, will officially be playing collegiate basketball at South Dakota State after he is finished up at the high school level. SDSU head coach Eric Henderson had high praise for Mayo in Wednesday’s team release announcing the signing.
“Zeke is a dynamic combo guard that can affect the game on both ends of the floor,” Henderson said. “He has a knack to score and creates opportunities for his teammates. He will also make a huge impact defensively every time he steps on the floor. Our fans will enjoy him in yellow and blue.”
Mayo, who is a 6-foot-3, 170-pound guard, was selected as the Journal-World’s boys basketball player of the year following an impressive junior campaign. Mayo averaged 16.4 points per game to go along with 5.8 rebounds and 4.0 assists per contest last year.
The LHS boys basketball team matched a program-record last year with its sixth-straight trip to the state tournament. The last time the Lions accomplished that feat was when they went every season between 1916 and 1922.
With Mayo leading the way, Lawrence will look to break the record during the 2020-21 campaign.