“Her skill level is right there with everybody. There’s really not a difference negatively. So much better sound, though, fundamentally. The form on field and ground balls, her hitting, her swing. Everything is perfection,” said Scott Cihak, head coach of the Neuqua Valley freshman/sophomore baseball team. This Feature Story is sponsored by Edward-Elmhurst Health.
Nalia Clifford playing baseball
Neuqua Valley freshman Nalia Clifford is a gifted athlete. She played basketball for the Wildcats this winter as a key role player on a team that won 21 games along with a DVC and regional title. Now with spring approaching, she takes her talents to the diamond, but not in the way you would expect. She is playing baseball for the freshman/sophomore team under head coach Scott Cihak. Clifford has actually been playing the sport since she was a child and has never played softball.
“My brother always played baseball and when I would go to his games I would play catch and pitch to my dad overhand and so that was kind of the main difference between baseball and softball. So that’s why I eventually chose to kind of follow in his footsteps, I guess, because I played at the same program as him,” said Nalia Clifford, infielder for the Neuqua Valley freshman/sophomore baseball team.
Her brother is a familiar face to the blue and gold faithful. Nolan Clifford is the starting shortstop at Creighton University after playing at Neuqua for four years. Her sister Maia Clifford was a mainstay on the softball field at Neuqua, graduating in 2022 after an All-State senior season. It’s clear they both have had a tremendous impact on Nalia’s life on the field.
“It’s always just been competitive at home and they’ve always taught me every time they learned something new, they’d teach me. So I kind of had a head start, I guess, because we would just practice all the time and play catch outside. It was just something we would do so it definitely made me a lot better,” said Clifford.
Nalia getting acclimated with her team
Since the beginning of practices, Nalia has had a seamless transition to the freshman/sophomore team.
“It’s felt pretty normal because I’ve been playing with boys since I was like seven or eight years old. I mean they are new. Like I’ve never played baseball with any of them, but I guess that’s kind of the main difference,” said Clifford.
“She’s a baseball player. That’s all I’m looking to coach; baseball. And she’s a baseball player. You don’t even see anything other than that. She fits in with everybody. They know her from summer ball. So it’s a really good situation,” said Cihak.
Girls are allowed to try out and compete on high school baseball teams in Illinois and several have done so across the state in recent years. Although, most eventually switch over to softball for the collegiate scholarship opportunities. However, right now, Nalia Clifford is excited to start the season with her new team and plans to continue playing the sport of baseball in hopes that she gets an opportunity to play on varsity one day.
“That’s my plan, but if it doesn’t work out, there’s always other things I can try like maybe even switch to softball, but baseball is my first plan, plan A,” said Clifford.