By Blake Long/Special to the Journal
HOUSTON – While Houston’s Haley Gravat may be known more for her pitching skills, her hitting was just as important in Game 1 of the Class 4A North championship fastpitch softball series.
Gravat’s fifth-inning RBI single broke a scoreless tie and propelled the Lady Hilltoppers to a 2-0 win over Pontotoc.
The go-ahead hit capped a special night for Gravat. The senior dedicated the last home game of her career to her brother, who died five years ago.
“I don’t know what to say,” Gravat said postgame, with tears in her eyes.
Fighting off the emotions, Gravat recorded another dominant performance in the circle to go with her game winner at the plate. She threw her fourth shutout in five playoff games for Houston, striking out five and allowing six hits.
“We expect her to step up like that, and most of the time she does,” Houston coach Keith Jernigan said. “She may have been a little tense tonight, a little emotional. This was her memory game for him.”
Chelsea Gates gave Gravat a bit of breathing room in the sixth with an RBI double that scored an insurance run in Madeline Burdine.
Houston, winners of 20 straight games, will take a 1-0 series lead to Pontotoc on Saturday, where Game 2 – and Game 3, if needed – will be played beginning at 6 p.m.
Missed opportunities plagued both teams throughout the game. Pontotoc’s best chance to score came in the sixth inning.
Erin Claire Stegall walked and Katlyn Alexander came through with her third hit of the day, a single, with one out. Haley Spears then advanced both runners with a groundout.
However, Gravat composed herself and struck out Kayla Russell to end the Lady Warriors’ last threat.
The Lady Hilltoppers (31-1) also had their chances to score earlier in the game. Houston loaded the bases with one out in the third inning before a nice double play by second baseman Regan Huckaby left the runners stranded.
For the game, Pontotoc (20-10) left eight runners on base while Houston stranded nine.