Clara Phariss lets go of her horse Mac’s reins. But she still holds Wheeler’s. ‘She’s a great player.’

Wheeler senior Clara Phariss has been pitching with a different frame of mind this season.

The process of deciding on her college future had been weighing on her, but her commitment to IUPUI in the fall has removed that burden.

“Since then, I’ve really relaxed,” Phariss said. “This year, I’ve been just able to focus more on the team aspect because I was worried a little bit too much about myself and what I could send to schools from high school. That’s not really what it’s about, and I realized that. This year, I just want to be more selfless and for the team.

“Last year and my sophomore year were a little rough. I was going through a bit. I was just stressed out with recruiting.”

Still, it hasn’t prevented Phariss from excelling throughout her Wheeler career. She has been the team’s ace and one of the Region’s top pitchers since her freshman season. Through Monday, she was 2-1 with a 2.60 ERA and 53 strikeouts in 35 innings and was also hitting .391 with two homers and eight RBIs for the Bearcats (5-3).

“I love Clara,” Wheeler senior Megan Vincent said. “She’s a great player. I’m happy that she’s on our team and I don’t have to hit against her. She’s grown a lot in recent years.

“Me and her, sticking by each other, I applaud her for all she’s done. She’s worked so hard and just her commitment. We talk all the time. She’s a great teammate.”

Phariss, who went 17-6 with a 1.98 ERA and 183 strikeouts in 131 innings last season, and Vincent are the only seniors on a young team. That mentorship role is one they have taken seriously.

“I just try to offer encouragement,” Phariss said. “When they’re stressed or frustrated with themselves, it’s like, ‘Hey, relax. You know how to play the game. You guys have been here a long time. You guys have been in these situations. It’s just high school. Have fun. Just calm down and play the game you’ve always been playing.’”

First-year Wheeler coach Gianna Hamady Mortimer has been impressed by Phariss.

“She’s really stepped up as a leader this year, especially in high-pressure situations,” Mortimer said. “She’s closing them out, which is huge. Especially as a pitcher going to college, that really shows the athlete that she is.”

Phariss, who went to Boone Grove schools until she moved to the Wheeler district in third grade, plans to study sports management at IUPUI.

“I’m excited about that, too, because the program is very involved with all of the Indianapolis sports teams, and that’s very interesting to me,” she said. “It was a long, stressful process. But in the end, everything worked out exactly the way I needed it to.”

Another piece of that puzzle involved her horse, Mac.

Phariss competed in equestrian and show jumping, an interest that developed during spring break visits to see her grandmother in Texas. She began taking lessons when she was 6 years old and got Mac when she was 8.

“When I was going into my freshman year, that’s when I really started playing competitive travel ball, and all of the horse shows were in the summer, the same time as the tournaments in Colorado and California and all of these places,” Phariss said. “So I had to leave that behind, and it was hard.

“Now we lease the horse to a barn in Hinsdale, Illinois. The trainer leases him from us, and he’s a lesson horse for little kids, and he gets taken to shows, which is nice because he hadn’t been doing that the past couple of years. He’s taken care of, and that’s good. I knew at some point I was going to have to let someone else, I guess, take the reins. I just needed to take him somewhere and know that he’s working and he’s happy so I could be comfortable going off to college.”

Before she departs, Phariss wants to end her Wheeler career on a high note. The Bearcats won sectional and Greater South Shore Conference titles when she was a freshman, and she sees similarities between this team and that one.

Mortimer, the junior varsity coach last season, has also invigorated Wheeler along with assistant Mercedes Lira, a former standout who graduated from the school in 2019.

Mortimer attended Wheeler schools through the start of high school before she transferred to Boone Grove. She a key player on the teams that reached back-to-back Class 2A state championship games in 2015 and 2016 and a semistate in 2017, when she was a senior. She was also an assistant at Boone Grove.

“This group is a lot different,” Phariss said. “Everybody has more of that attitude that we’re going to win and we’re going to do this. It’s just having to lift up the younger players. Toward the end of the season, once we put everything together, our team has a lot of potential.”