By GENE PHELPS/Daily Journal
Just as the photographer was about to snap her picture, Haley Gravat asked, “Do you want me to smile?”
She was told that was up to her.
Gravat smiled for the photo. It’s something she rarely does when she’s in the fastpitch softball pitching circle. Instead, batters usually see only the left-hander’s determined – and not-so-friendly – stare toward the plate.
Gravat, the Daily Journal’s 2012 Player of the Year, struck out 565 batters and won 102 games during her four-year varsity career with the Houston Lady Hilltoppers. This season, she compiled an impressive 34-2 record with 172 strikeouts to lead Houston to the MHSAA Class 4A state championship.
“I don’t smile when I’m out there,” Gravat said. “That’s not my personality.”
North Pontotoc junior catcher Brittany Seale and Nettleton senior infielder Makenzie Hawkins were both considered for the award.
Houston coach Keith Jernigan likes to say his pitcher is “all business” when she’s in the circle.
“If you just look at her out there, you might think she’s not giving it her all,” he said. “You don’t see a lot of smiling, laughing. We do that after we win the game.”
Gravat, a Northeast Mississippi Community College signee, uses mainly her fastball and change-up to baffle batters. Jernigan believes mental toughness helps her control a game from the circle.
“She knows a batter once she faces them,” he said.
“I remember what they hit and what they don’t hit,” Gravat adds. “I want to get them to swing at bad pitches.”
Gravat attributes a lot of her success this season, and during her career, to her teammates and their play on defense.
“The defense played well behind me every game,” she said. “We had a good defense and we hit the ball well.”
Jernigan never doubted Gravat’s ability in the circle.
“As coaches, we were confident when she was pitching,” he said. “The players knew they were going to get ground balls. She is also a tremendous fielder.”
Gravat, who wears No. 28 in memory of her brother, Cody, who died in an auto accident five years ago, was also a solid batter during her career with the Lady Toppers, hitting .443 in four seasons and .363 this year.