The Grind, Presented by the Bank of Clarendon: Making it on her own - Wilson Hall's Way learning independence while shining for the Lady Barons


Softball has always been a central part of life for Amberly Way.

As Clarendon Hall made runs for SCISA state titles with her dad, Ritchie, as a coach, Amberly tried to soak up as much knowledge as possible from the Lady Saints on the Diamond.

"I looked up to them," she said. "I always stayed with them after school before practice, and they were such good role models for me that I was like, 'Wow I kind of want to be like them.'"

Learning from - and playing with - older players became normal for Amberly. At the age of 10, she was playing travel ball with 13-year-olds. By the time she was 13, she was playing in the 18U national championship tournament.

"I played up because I always wanted to challenge myself, to make myself better. If you play people that are just as good as you, you're not gonna get better," Amberly said. "Seeing all these girls that were really good - like there were girls going D1 - I'd never seen anybody that good at 13. Seeing all these people that are making outstanding plays, that just inspired me."

With eighth grade came varsity and playing for her dad, who is also the athletic director at Clarendon Hall, but that also came with added pressure.

"Being the coach's kid, you're always expected to be the best," Amberly said. "You have to be a role model. You have to push yourself harder than everybody else because you have those expectations of being the best."

That season Amberly made the jump to varsity, the Lady Saints made it to the SCISA 1A state semifinals and were looking to build on that success as she began her freshman season of high school.

Then COVID-19 hit.

They got in only a handful of games. Most of their season was erased.

"That was really hard for me because I was really worked up about it," Amberly said. "We really thought we were gonna make it that year. We had our minds [set] that we were making it and we were gonna win. ...We were all distraught."


During her time away from the diamond, Amberly started to think more about her future in the sport.

She wanted to play college softball and felt that she wasn't being challenged enough academically or athletically at Clarendon Hall. After a lot of discussion with her parents, Amberly decided to transfer to Wilson Hall.

"My mom wanted me to make the move for education. She wanted somebody that would push me because she wants me to play in college, and she wants me to be prepared for that academic increase, and she thought Wilson Hall was the best move for me," Amberly said. "My dad, on the other hand, being my coach, he was like, 'All right, I don't know if I really want you to go, but this is best for you so we can make the move, but I'm gonna miss you a lot.'"

Amberly wasn't just moving away from her dad's softball program. She moved out entirely.

With Ritchie still working at Clarendon Hall, Amberly's parents stayed in Summerton. To spare herself the daily drive to Sumter, Amberly moved in with her sister, Chastity Barrs.

Suddenly, the high school sophomore had to learn how to live essentially on her own.

"It was a big adjustment because I've always been right there with my parents. I never really stayed at other people's houses because I was, like, scared. So, moving out, not having my parents there was really tough," Amberly said.

She had no one to tell her what to do, no one to make sure she did what she needed. It forced her to mature quickly.

"I think that was a big part in who I am today because I can hold myself accountable for stuff that I have to do," she said.


Amberly joined a Wilson Hall team that had played for the last two SCISA 3A state championships, winning in 2018 and losing in 2019, the last full season before the pandemic.

She wanted to prove she was not only a worthy addition but a positive difference-maker.

She pushed herself so hard she went past her body's breaking point.

Before her first season with the Lady Barons, Amberly pulled a muscle in her back. After already missing a full season of softball, she was at risk of losing another.

"Coming back from COVID and not being able to play for a whole year, almost, I was really worked up and ready to play and coming out here working hard, and then bam, pulled muscle. It felt like it was over until the end," Amberly said. "That was a really tough thing to go through because I was coming over here expecting to be the pitcher, and then I got hurt and I couldn't even play. I couldn't hit, I couldn't field, couldn't throw. I just had to sit on the bench."

During that time, Amberly shared a dugout with an invaluable resource when it comes to back issues. Andi Grae Wingate, Wilson Hall's top pitcher and hitter last season, spent years navigating back injuries.

"She knew the pain that I was feeling, so she knew how to tell me to back off because I like to push myself. Even when I'm hurt, I still want to do it, so I'm gonna do it," Amberly said. "There was one game last year, I hit the ball and I could not even run to first base after hitting it. I went straight to the ground, basically, and her and her mom were like, 'You need to go to the doctor, your back could be broken right now.' That's when it really hit me. I was like, 'Wow, my back could be broken right now, so I need to, like, completely stop.' For the next like week at practice, I just sat on the bucket."

Amberly spent most of the season going to doctor and chiropractor appointments. Throughout the season, Wilson Hall head coach Teresa Alexander would occasionally let Amberly test the waters, but the sophomore missed most of the regular season.


Despite missing one of their top players, Wilson Hall found success.

The Lady Barons were the favorite to win the state championship in 2021, earning the lone first-round bye in the 3A playoffs. Amberly missed their first game but finally made her pitching debut against Laurence Manning in the state semifinals.

"Getting back in the circle after not being able to pitch or play for half the season, three-fourths of the season was amazing," Amberly said. "And then have to go and play Laurence Manning, that was something else. I really felt the pressure. I knew pretty much the whole team, so it was pitching against your friends."

After beating Laurence Manning, Wilson Hall played Cardinal Newman for the state championship. Amberly suddenly found herself in the middle of a bitter rivalry.

"Coming from Clarendon Hall, I didn't really know what the rivalry was. I finally figured it out. The whole team, they knew these people left, right, up, down, and I didn't know nothing," Amberly said. "They were always like, 'Alright, you got throw it outside for this girl. She can't hit it.'"


One of the people who helped Amberly feel confident was Wingate.

Wingate and her family made Amberly want to move to Wilson Hall in the first place. As soon as she became a Lady Baron, the two formed a dynamic duo on and off the field.

"Andi Grae was my mom. That's what everybody called her. I was Kid. She was Mom. She's always there to take care of me," Amberly said. "I'd go to her after school. I'd go to practice with her and come home with her after school. I think there was one week I was at her house the whole week; I didn't go home. She was just like my best friend."

On the field, they were also inseparable. They batted together in the middle of the lineup. When Amberly was in the circle, Wingate was by her side at third base. When Wingate was pitching, Amberly was right behind her at shortstop. Their shared time in the circle made a difference in the three-game championship series.

"In the state game, me and Andi Grae switched off very quickly. I was getting crushed in the first inning and she came in and almost shut them down. Having that just so I could get my get my head back together, just having her there the whole time was good," Amberly said. "Switching off was very good for us because having me coming and throwing 60 and then her coming and throwing 50 is a big difference in softball."

Wilson Hall won the 2021 state championship 2-1.


After the spring season, Amberly's softball worlds came crashing together.

For the first time, the American Legion sponsored softball in South Carolina. Sumter's Post 15 fielded two teams, the Lady Legends and the Storm. The Lady Legends' roster was full of players from Clarendon Hall, Wilson Hall and Laurence Manning.

"That was probably the best summer I've ever had, playing with a bunch of girls that I've played with since I was 10 years old from rec ball to travel ball and then just coming together and having a bunch of fun," Amberly said. "We weren't, like, cocky, but we just knew we were good, so we just went out there and played. We just had fun."


After that magical summer, Amberly started to prepare for her junior season at Wilson Hall.

While expectations are still sky-high, the team is different. Wingate graduated in the spring, leaving a leadership void. Wilson Hall has just one senior.

"Not having [Wingate] here is a struggle, but I learned a lot from her last year, so I know how to get the team going after having a bad inning or something like that. She taught me a lot, but not having her here is kind of hard for the whole team because she was the glue of the team basically," Amberly said. "It's a very different dynamic. Me and Ansley [Epps, the lone senior] are trying to co-parent the team. Ansley and I are still trying to figure stuff out."

The pressure on a star pitcher is magnified in softball. Teams with one elite pitcher often ride her arm through an entire season. After fighting back problems in the past, Amberly has to find the balance between carrying the load in the circle and overexerting herself.

Early in the season, Alexander is trying to take pressure off her ace.

"Her knowing that I have back problems, she'll give me a break every now and then," Amberly said. "She does push me a lot, but not my back."


Amberly still dreams of playing in college. She has smaller offers on the table, but she has her eyes set on Division I softball.

She's already had conversations with local colleges like South Carolina, Clemson and Wofford, but she hopes to expand her recruiting net over the summer.

"I have a few connections, but not as many as I'd like right now," Amberly said. "I think playing travel ball this summer is gonna be a big jump for me with offers and knowing where I want to go because I'm not sure where I want to go yet."

Amberly hopes college softball gives her the chance to follow in her family's footsteps.

"My dad and all his brothers played in college somewhere or somehow," she said. "And I think it's just kind of like a mindset. I want to be the best out there, so let's go play DI."