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A NEW APPROACH: Clarion-Limestone Ace Tommy Smith Seeking to Cut Down on Pitch Count While Remaining a Nightmare to Face

STRATTANVILLE, Pa. (EYT/D9) — Tommy Smith is now all about efficiency.

Not using six pitches to get an out when three or four will do.

Last year as a junior, the Clarion-Limestone right-hander used his electric arm and filthy stuff to strike out 74 batters in just 44⅔ innings. But all those offerings took a toll.

It wore in his mighty wing.

By the end of the season, Smith’s arm balked. In a 4-3 loss to Johnsonburg in the first round of the District 9 Class playoff game, he felt something pop, but with the rush of adrenaline coursing through his veins and an unwillingness to surrender, he pushed on.

The arm woes lingered until finally he sought a doctor’s advice.

He was lucky. The ligaments in his shoulder were just tightened, putting extra stress on the rest of his arm. Rest would do the trick.

And perhaps an alternative approach on the hill as a senior.

“I did throw a lot of pitches,” Smith said with a soft chuckle. “I’m going to try to throw as little pitches as I can throw. That will be ideal.”

It’s a fine line. He doesn’t want to compromise what made him an ace and so difficult to hit last season when he went 4-1 with a 2.35 ERA for the Lions. He also doesn’t want his pitch count to climb precipitously.

He throws a two- and four-seam fastball, a 12-6 curveball and a hard-biting slider. Smith has tinkered more with a changeup with the hopes it will make his fastball appear even more of a blur to opposing batters.

“It’s easy on the arm. There’s no flick of the wrist or anything,” Smith said of his change. “It’s just a nice change of speed. I feel like I’ve pretty well perfected it this year. I’m hoping to use all of those pitches this year.”

Smith has been taking it slow this spring, building strength back in his arm, wary of any soreness or tinges of pain.

He pitched three scoreless, no-hit innings on Thursday against Union/A-C Valley in a 6-2 victory. He struck out five, walked two and threw just 51 pitches.

“I wanted to make sure I was just throwing strikes,” Smith said. “I was happy with that performance. I felt good. I can build on it. I’m hoping I can cut back on the walks. I had two walks yesterday, and that wasn’t ideal. But it’s early.”

Smith tops a strong 1-2-3 punch on the mound for Clarion-Limestone this season.

Kohen Kemmer and left-hander Logan Lutz will team with Smith to bring three very different looks to the hill.

All three pitched against the Falcon Knights on Thursday and combined for a one-hitter.

“It’s definitely huge,” Smith said. “I know there’s a lot of teams that don’t have three guys like we have. What we did (against Union/A-C Valley), I honestly think we can do that most games. We don’t necessarily have to have one guy throw the whole game. We could space ourselves out.”

Smith’s father, Bill, is the head coach of the Clarion-Limestone baseball team. So, he definitely has his ear when it comes to strategy.

Tommy Smith, though, doesn’t care how the winning is done, as long as it is.

“Our ultimate goal is to make the playoffs again and win some playoff games,” Smith said.

Smith reached 100 career strikeouts early last season and is sitting at around 160 Ks now. His goal is to reach 200 this season and beyond.

That is well within his reach.

Smith was also a talented football player for Central Clarion. He missed some time because of a partially torn MCL this fall for the Wildcats, which won a second-consecutive District 9 Class 2A title, but fell again to Westinghouse in the state playoffs.

“It didn’t end the way we wanted, obviously, but the team we had was unbelievable,” Smith said. “The team we had two years ago was unbelievable, but this one this year — the amount of talent we had on both sides of the ball was just ridiculous.”

Smith, though, always had his eyes on playing baseball in college.

And he recently found a home — very close to his current one.

Smith committed to play for the Clarion Golden Eagles at PennWest Clarion next year.

“With it being so close to home, it was definitely ideal,” Smith said. “I can live at home and save money. My mom actually works at the college, so I can go for free. So it’s a win-win.”

Smith is also excited to be a part of a program headed by new coach Caleb Lang, who is determined to improve the fortunes of the team.

“I’m really excited,” he said. “Obviously they haven’t had much success in the past few years, but I think he’s going to be a great coach. He’s going to turn things around and I’m excited to work with him.”

For now, Smith’s focus is on Clarion-Limestone and helping the Lions make another postseason run.

Last year with just one senior, C-L went 12-6. Smith stepped up as a leader and he is doing so again.

“Last year we had some guys who were still young and inexperienced,” Smith said. “Now I think everyone knows what to expect. I mean, the talent is there. We just have to put it all together.”