CLARION, Pa. (EYT/D9) — As the throw sizzled across the diamond from third baseman Noah Harrison to the glove of first baseman Matt Alston at Medlar Field, Clarion pitcher Derek Smail watched in anticipation.
As the umpire made the out call, Smail leapt, throwing his glove high into the Central Pennsylvania air.
It was the final out of a dominating state championship march for the Bobcats, who blitzed their way through four PIAA opponents — including District 9 rival DuBois Central Catholic in the final — for their first state crown.
Even more than a month later, Smail is still trying to wrap his head around that day.
(Pictured above, Clarion’s Derek Smail waits for a pitch during the PIAA Class A championship game against DuBois Central Catholic on June 15 at Penn State University/photo by Nathan Girvan)
“It was probably one of the top five moments in my whole entire life,” Smail said. “I mean, it’s kind of crazy. Just want to try to do it again next year.”
Smail is no stranger to performing on big stages.
Since he was young, he played elite-level baseball. He’s a member of the Beaver Valley 16U Prospect team, which is one of the best travel teams in the country.
Smail will again be in the limelight next week when the Clarion junior first baseman/pitcher participates in the PBR Future Games, a national event that features some of the best uncommitted players in the class of 2025.
More than 300 college scouts will be on hand to evaluate the talent in Emerson, Ga., from July 26-29.
“I’m pretty excited,” Smail said. “It’s just kind of let your skills do its thing. Just show up and play.”
Smail will test his skills in game action, as well as during drills that will measure everything from exit speed and launch angle while batting, to spin rate, velocity and horizontal and vertical break while pitching.
Smail is one of the few two-way players attending the event from more than 40 states. He’s the only two-way player who will be there from the Pennsylvania team.
“I’m trying to be a two-way player,” Smail. said. “I want to hit and pitch in college.”
He showed his ability to do both well this season for Clarion.
In the box, the Smail hit .379 with four home runs, four doubles and 24 RBIs from the right side of the plate for the Bobcats.
On the mound, the right-hander was 2-1 with a 3.14 ERA. In 29 innings pitched, he struck out 38, using a mid- to upper-80s fastball and a sharp-breaking curve. Opponents hit just .168 against him.
“High school season was really fun,” Smail said. “It took a lot away from my summer, but it was a good reason for that.”
Smail’s summer was cut short last season because of an arm injury.
It also prevented him from participating in a PBR showcase last year.
“I couldn’t because of my arm,” Smail said. “I threw 100 pitches in the district semifinal and then in summer ball I pitched a lot. We were playing … one of the best teams in the nation. The first day my arm was fine and the second day my arm just went numb.”
Smail had tightness in his shoulder, which caused issues with his elbow.
Luckily, rest and physical therapy was all Smail needed to recover.
It still cost him five months.
(Smail walks off the mound during the state championship game/photo by Nathan Girvan)
It served, though, as a wake-up call of sorts for Smail, who began taking much better care of his arm after that scare.
“I stretch every day when I wake up and before I go to bed every night,” Smail said. “When I pitch I have a whole entire new routine.
“I do a sleeper stretch,” he added. “It’s where you lay down on your side and press your arm flat on the ground, but you have your elbow bent up and you’re pushing on the ground.”
It has helped keep his arm loose and healthy.
And he hopes it will allow him to further enhance his profile to college coaches.
He’s already known. With a powerful 6-foot-1, 235-pound frame, Smail figures to develop his power even more at the plate.
On the mound, his fastball topped out at 88 mph in the state championship game to go along with an 11-5, tight curve. He’s also working on a change-up.
“I have a lot of interest,” Smail said of the recruiting process, which is about to really heat up for him. “They just changed the recruiting rules so I can’t get offers or talk to any coaches until September of my junior year.”
In a few months, those flood gates will open.
Smail’s older brother, Dawson, has already been through all of that. Dawson, though, committed very early to Xavier.
Derek hopes with events like the one in Georgia, he can also land at a top-notch college destination.
“I’m excited,” he added. “I’m just going with the flow. What happens, happens.”