Derek Clayton wore a navy blue Rice University baseball T-shirt and tugged at the bill of a Georgia Southern cap before Harlem started practice one day last week.
The Bulldogs senior wears his desire to play college baseball on his sleeve -- and his head. He doesn't know where he might end up next year, only that he wants to play baseball for whichever school might give him a shot.
"He's going to play somewhere next year," Harlem coach Jimmie Lewis said. "I guarantee it."
It would be difficult for schools not to take notice if Clayton continues his current tear. He was batting .640 entering a March 13 game against Lakeside with 16 hits, 11 RBI and a home run. All lead the team.
And Clayton has been crucial to each of Harlem's key wins to this point. He drove in the go-ahead run during the Bulldogs' first win over Greenbrier and turned a key double play in the final inning. Against Evans on March 11, Clayton helped break the game open with a two-run single in the fifth.
The hit came after teammate Patrick Gamblin had been walked ahead of him to load the bases. On his way to first, Gamblin told Clayton to hit the ball up the middle.
Clayton stayed with a fastball away and drilled a grounder past the mound.
"He's come up clutch in every situation he's been in this year," Gamblin said.
Clayton said he has learned to be patient.
When the season started, Clayton saw a lot of fastballs. Pitchers wised up and started throwing the Bulldogs' cleanup hitter more breaking pitches. Clayton has been forced to stay back and go with the pitch.
But he prefers jumping on fastballs. He launched the Bulldogs' first home run of the season on a fastball during a game against Jefferson County.
When he's hitting well, as he has through the first few weeks, it doesn't matter what he is thrown.
"Right now, I feel like I'm seeing a beach ball," Clayton said. "When you're hitting good, you see everything. That's how I felt."
Clayton also has enjoyed a solid start in the field. At second base, he started a double play against the Wolfpack that Lewis still talks about. He backhanded a ground ball up the middle and flipped it without looking to shortstop Tyler James, who winged the ball to first for the second out.
"We came back and slapped gloves," Clayton said. "It was a nice play. From what I've heard, it looked good, too."
Clayton also pitches for the Bulldogs, filling a relief role in a rotation that includes Gamblin, Phillip Summers, and Derek Beasley. Lewis said Clayton's fastball reaches the low to mid-80s, and his breaking ball is sharp.
Clayton said he enjoys pitching and he enjoys second base.
When it comes down to it, Clayton said, he doesn't mind where he plays, as long as it gives him a shot to continue playing after his high school career concludes.
"Any way I can get to college, it wouldn't matter to me," he said.
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