A pattern developed over the summer for Hilton Head Island High School pitcher Mat Clark.
The Seahawks left-hander would spend four or five days each week pitching against a tarp in his backyard, trying to enhance his fastball and perfect his signature curve. The hour-long sessions were pivotal for the freshman, who set his sights on becoming the ace of the Hilton Head High staff this season.
"I was hoping to be one of the best pitchers on the team," Clark said. "I didn't know if I could actually do it, though, because of the older kids."
He certainly looked the part Wednesday night, recording a career-high 15 strikeouts while allowing just one run in a 4-1 complete-game win over Battery Creek in the season opener.
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Coach Chris Wells declined to comment for this story. But his center fielder, senior Adam Orischak, had rave reviews for the Hilton Head High southpaw.
"Thus far he's really shown us he can play at the varsity level," Orischak said. "Last year, he came out and kind of surprised everybody. I guess you could say there may be a sophomore slump, but we haven't seen that yet. He's our ace right now. I don't see him falling off."
Orischak helped provide all the run support his young teammate would need, leading off the first with a single through the right side before coming home on catcher Brandon Johnson's single up the box. Second baseman Dillon Heffner, who walked earlier in the frame, came around to score later in the inning on Storm Grisham's fielder's choice.
Clark would take care of the rest. He surrendered singles to the first two batters he faced but responded by retiring the next 12 hitters. He mixed up his fastball -- to which he added 2-3 mph this summer -- and curve to keep the Dolphins (0-2) off-balance.
"I just came in with the mindset that I was going to start them all outside and just throw a bunch of curves," he said. "In the first few innings, I realized that they couldn't catch up to the fastball and I got them with a few curves."
Battery Creek wouldn't record another base hit until Aaron Brantley's one-out single in the seventh. Only two other baserunners reached outside of the first inning -- both on errors -- while Clark struck out the side in the fourth, fifth and seventh.
The Seahawks, meanwhile, added to their total on Grisham's run-scoring single in the third and Heffner's sacrifice fly in the seventh.
"Give credit to their pitcher," Battery Creek coach Shaun Morrison said. "He definitely kept us off-balance and had a good curveball. I thought we had a chance. We started off with a couple hits in the first inning."
Morrison, whose team fell at Bluffton, 2-1, on Monday, left Wednesday night disappointed in his team's effort. He didn't think his team was bothered by its latest loss, which wasn't the case against the Bobcats earlier in the week.
"I told the boys down the line that for the first time this year, going to that last inning, I didn't feel like we were going to win the game," he said. "We can't accept losses. I told them that accepting a loss is unacceptable. But tonight, that's exactly what we did."
But few others would have done much else against Clark on this night, who allowed just two balls to leave the infield.
"We know we're going to put runs on the board," Orischak said. "We think putting Mat on the mound is our best chance at keeping the other team off. He's good at mixing it up and getting ground balls. That's what it takes to keep their runs off the board and keep ours on."
Hilton Head High 201 000 1 -- 4 8 2
Battery Creek 100 000 0 -- 1 3 2
W: Mat Clark (1-0) 7 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 15 K.
L: Thomas Smith 7 IP, 8 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 1 BB, 3 K.
Top hitters: Hilton Head High -- Adam Orischak 2-4, SB, 2 R; Brandon Johnson 2-3, RBI; Storm Grisham 1-3, RBI; Battery Creek -- Michael Jennings 1-3, R; Craig Capano 1-3.