By LORI A. CARTER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Clayton Andrews let the pitch pass, judging it a ball. Nope, the ump rang him up on a called strike three.
For most players, that wouldn’t be a big deal. It happens. It’s part of the game.
But for Andrews, it was huge.
It was the first time the Maria Carrillo senior pitcher-center fielder had struck out all season. In fact, the only time. In two years.
Andrews’ almost uncanny ability to put the ball in play is only one of his many talents.
He hit .396 this year, second best in the North Bay League, and was also among league leaders in hits (36), runs batted in (22) and runs scored (25).
That’s just on offense. Andrews may be even more impressive as a pitcher.
“Clayton did everything for us,” said Carrillo coach Derek DeBenedetti. “He is an extremely impactful player in a couple of the most important positions for us.”
His impact and versatility led Andrews to be honored as The Press Democrat’s All-Empire Large-School Baseball Player of the Year.
As rare as strikeouts were when Andrews was hitting, they were his most potent weapon as a pitcher.
Throwing in the mid-80s with stellar command of a fastball, breaking ball and change-up, Andrews struck out 77 batters in 482/3 innings. The left-hander walked only 12.
He didn’t have much of an explanation for his dominance, particularly since at 5-foot-6, he’s not a particularly imposing figure on the mound.
“Maybe they don’t expect it from me since I’m not so big,” he said.
His height has been huge catalyst during Andrews’ entire life.
“It’s really motivated me to be the best I can be. I was always being told, ‘You’re too short’ or that I couldn’t do certain things,” he said. “That’s always been one of the things that drives me to make myself better. Just because you’re short doesn’t mean you can’t be a great athlete.”
To prove that, Andrews was also a second-team All-Empire basketball player. He averaged 19.4 points a game his senior year.
Andrews, a positive, cheerful young man, is quick to thank his mentors: his parents, Marie and Vaughn, twin brother Myles, coaches and teammates.
“My dad taught me the game, and it was hard work,” he said. “But without the inspiration and constant motivation from my mother and from my brother, I definitely wouldn’t be the same player I am.”
Clayton and Myles were built-in competitors for each other growing up, both upping the other’s game, starting with foam bats and balls. Myles is also a strong athlete and plans to play baseball at Santa Rosa Junior College next year while Clayton heads south to Cabrillo College near Santa Cruz.
Andrews’ innate competitive nature makes him special, his coach said.
“One of the things that makes him so unique at any level, but especially at the high school level, is his baseball IQ, his instinct,” DeBenedetti said. “His ability to get great jumps in the outfield, knowing what to do with the ball before he gets it, and 99 percent of the time making the correct decision. He can throw on a dime.”
As a pitcher, Andrews lost only one game in 13 appearances, allowing just 4 earned runs in almost 50 innings.
His 77 strikeouts came in bunches, with multiple double-digit strikeout games.
“Pitching is a whole different beast,” Andrews said. “It takes a whole different mindset to do it and do it well. You also have to have supreme confidence in those in the field. That’s what made me do pretty well on the mound this year, because I knew that no matter where the ball was hit, I had a great player there to make the play.”
In April, he turned in one of the strongest performances of the NBL season in a 4-0 win at Ukiah, striking out 15 batters, fielding three ground balls and picking off a runner — playing a part in 19 of the game’s 21 outs. He struck out the side in the sixth and seventh innings and scored the Pumas’ first run.
He shone at the Boras Classic tournament in Sacramento in March, going 7 for 15 with four runs scored and seven RBIs in four games.
He also hit his first career home run, an inside-the-park drive that skipped off the infield dirt and rolled all the way to the wall.
“It was a low line drive that split the gap,” Andrews said. “Right off the bat, I thought it was going to be a double. Then I thought triple. But when I was almost to third base, I saw all my teammates jumping out of the dugout waving their hands telling me to go home.
“That’s probably my favorite part of the whole thing, seeing all my teammates encouraging me.”
You can reach Lori A. Carter at 521-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @loriacarter.