Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Buford starting pitcher Sam Clay poses for a portrait at Buford City Park on Wednesday. Senior Clay is 4-2 this year with 73 strikeouts and plans to play for Georgia Tech next year.
BUFORD -- Sam Clay wants to bore you.
As a pitcher, the 6-foot-2, left-hander is convinced people come to see long balls and plenty of runs.
"Fans don't really like strikeouts that much," the Buford senior said. "They'd rather see the ball in play."
Balls in play aren't really what Clay is all about. The Georgia Tech commit wants to strike you out. Let everyone else be bored.
In his first 36 innings this season, Clay racked up 61 strikeouts, fifth best in Gwinnett County. He allowed eight earned runs for a 1.53 ERA. And this is a guy who didn't sprout into his current self until his junior season.
"I wasn't really a fast pitcher when I started," Clay said. "I started off in little leagues and wasn't that fast; I just kind of worked on getting people out."
He looked up to Tom Glavine, one of the ultimate location over power pitchers, and modeled his play after the probable Hall of Famer.
"Location is everything," Clay said.
Clay throws a two- and four-seam fastball, a slider and a change-up. He relies on his slider as his out pitch. His strikeout pitch. His velocity tops out in the low 90s and consistently hangs in the 88-89 mph range. But the speed is a new development.
"My real jump started going into my junior year, that's when I really noticed it," said Clay, who saw his velocity jump from the low to high 80s over the summer. "I was very surprised by it. I always thought I was one of the slower pitchers that just got outs."
And that bump in speed, mixed with his development as a location pitcher suddenly made Clay a top-level pitcher, drawing interest from schools like Georgia Tech.
"After the summer going into my junior year, I felt like I had a chance to get a scholarship so I started working hard at it," Clay said.
Like any good Buford athlete, Clay also plays football. He's a quarterback and he particuarly credits the time spent in the fall for his jump in velocity. That, and his growth spurt.
"It's a little bit different, I go out and throw a football for a whole season and I come out and throw a baseball and it's like picking up a pea," Clay said.
Throwing a pea is always easier than a watermelon.
Clay is polite and doesn't flash much emotion, on or off the mound. But his aggression and competitiveness still show. In a game earlier this season against rival GAC, if a runner reached base, the next batter didn't. And he followed all but one of the eight baserunners with a strikeout.
"He takes a lot of pride in his work on the hill," Buford head coach Tony Wolfe said. "I think he gets a little offended when someone does get a hit."
In that game, Clay struck out 16 and allowed one run. Not too exciting for the fans.
Just how he likes it.