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Wheeler's budding freshman throws perfect game, among state's strikeout leaders

Wheeler's budding freshman throws perfect game, among state's strikeout leaders

VALPARAISO — Clara Phariss was trying to close out a brilliant performance in the circle when she overheard Wheeler coach Mark Becker.

"I was talking (to one of my assistants) and there was one out to go, and I guess things echo pretty well," Becker said, laughing. "I said, 'I'm going to pull her and have someone else pitch,' and she actually heard that. She told me after the game that she started tearing up because she thought I was going to come out of the dugout."

Luckily, Becker was just joking as Phariss, a freshman, threw the first perfect game of her prep career in an 8-0 home win over Greater South Shore Conference foe River Forest on April 26. Becker registered 16 strikeouts, overcoming a full count against the last batter to force a ground out.

"When I heard my coach say he was going to sub me, that kind of freaked me out," Phariss said, laughing. "I knew what was going on, but I didn't say anything because when you say something, you could ruin it. ... Overall, I think the perfect game was a big team thing, too, because our infield did really well, and Kyla (Chevalier) called a really good game."

So far this season, Phariss has emerged as one of the top young pitchers in the Region. The freshman held a 1.63 ERA as Wheeler (10-4, 6-0) prepared to face Griffith, also undefeated in the GSSC, at home Monday. Her 141 strikeouts were ranked third in the state and first in Class 2A, according MaxPreps.

"I just feel like my team has really supported me," Phariss said. "Everyone has a lot of trust in me."

Phariss added that she wouldn't be off to such a strong start without Chevalier guiding her. The two teammates frequently practiced together last summer when nearly all school activities were suspended due to COVID-19, and the chemistry they built back then is clearly paying off now.

"There's always a little pressure since I've been calling the pitches, and of course there was even more pressure during (Phariss') perfect game, but I think we all wanted it as much as her," Chevalier said. "Each inning that we got closer to the seven (innings) we played, we were just focused and dialed in."

In addition to her steady presence behind the plate, Chevalier has also been "dialed in" at the plate. The junior is batting a team-high .641 with 25 hits, 11 RBIs and 18 runs scored.

However, Chevalier is quick to point out that the Bearcats' success this season is a reflection of the entire team.

Senior center fielder Haley Weiland and junior first baseman Sydney Ochall have been on a tear as well. Weiland is batting .479 with 23 hits, 12 RBIs and a team-high 20 runs scored. Ochall isn't too far behind, batting .452 with 19 hits, a team-high 23 RBIs and 16 runs scored.

Both players, who have aspirations of helping their program claim the GSSC title and its first Class 2A sectional crown since 2013, aren't taking any moments on the field together for granted.

Losing last season because of the coronavirus pandemic was a stark reminder that nothing is guaranteed.

"This year really does mean a lot to me because you don't realize all of the little things you love (along the way) until it's almost over," Weiland said. "Now, this is it, but you just don't want it to end."

Although Ochall is a junior, she shares a similar outlook. Since Ochall's father recently landed a new job in Iowa, this season will be her last as a Bearcat before her family moves out of the Region.

"I just get emotional whenever I think about it," Ochall said. "The bus rides home are always so much fun, doing karaoke with all of the girls. It just makes me sad that this is my last season, but I'm really glad that we even get to have a season.

"All of my best friends are because of softball."

Becker, a former FBI agent and East Chicago chief of police, said he's enjoyed this chapter of his life at Wheeler. He's in his fourth season at the helm, and he's thrilled to have a team that is as talented as it is close-knit.

"It's really cool to see them come together and enjoy the game," Becker said. "It comes and goes so quick. You blink and the season is over, so we try not to dwell on the losses and just learn from them and move on. We've had a lot of fun so far."


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Lake County Sports Reporter

James Boyd is the Lake County prep sports reporter for The Times. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a proud native of Romeoville, Illinois. Before anything else, his main goal in life is to spread love and light.

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