Emily Jo Gray has thrown a litany of one-hitters — so many, she can’t even count them.
But on April 14 at Georgetown Gateway, she didn’t have to worry about tallying them up. The Florence senior threw a six-inning no-hitter, the third of her career, while striking out 14 and walking one in a 13-0 victory.
She also went 3 for 3 at the plate with three singles and a walk, and she was rewarded for her performance by being voted Freddy’s-KDHpressbox.com Player of the Week.
“It feels really good,” Gray said of the honor. “It’s always an honor to get it. It just makes me feel really good and gives me a lot of confidence in myself to get an award like that.
“It always happens where one hitter will dink it somewhere we can’t get it, and I always end up with a one-hitter.”
It almost happened again against the Lady Gators, as Amber Charmicheal cued a shot off the end of the bat just behind Gray in the circle in the bottom of the sixth. But shortstop Bri Ramirez raced toward the ball, corralled it and hurled it to first base to just get Charmicheal on a bang-bang play to preserve the no-hitter.
“I hugged Bri right after that,” Gray said. “If she wouldn’t have been there and gotten that out, then it would’ve been another one-hitter. It was just really special, and it makes me proud to have a team with that much defense behind me as a pitcher.
“I just know that they’re going to back me up, no matter what.”
The Lady Buffaloes’ defense obviously aids Gray each game in the circle, but their ability to make plays gives her a sense of calmness. While she has strikeout ability, Gray doesn’t try to strike out every hitter because she trusts her defense.
“It definitely gives me the confidence to just go up there and know that everything will be OK because my defense is behind me,” she said.
Florence head coach Brett Gola agreed.
“We’ve been really blessed with several good teams in a row here, and we’ve got great kids,” Gola said. “They work well together, they’re confident in one another and it just goes to show that in a lot of games you might not have your best stuff — whether it be your defense, your hitting or your pitching. But when you have a group of kids like this, you can always rely on one another and pick each other up, and that no-hitter against Gateway was an example of that.”
When Gray is feeling good in the circle, however, Gola and company don’t have much to worry about.
“She just goes out there and does her job, day in and day out,” Gola said. “She’s probably our most consistent player, and every time she’s on the mound we know we have a good chance to see double-digit strikeouts and there’s a good chance that we may see a no-hitter that day, too.
“When she’s grooving like that, we feel really good about our chances against anybody.
“It’s really fun to watch a kid compete like that, when they’ve got dominant stuff and are just getting after it.”
Gray’s game plan against Gateway was simple — throw a first-pitch strike and make the Lady Gators chase her riseball.
“I just wanted to win, really bad,” Gray said. “In that game, my goal was to get ahead in the count against each batter so I would have that advantage. My riser was definitely on that game, and that’s my go-to pitch — that and my curveball.
“I like to get that first-pitch strike and then go after them with my riseball. If they can’t hit it, I’ll keep going at them with it.”
Gray has been dealing with a nagging ankle injury she suffered during the offseason that doesn’t seem to want to subside, but she has been battling through the pain and giving maximum effort for the Lady Buffaloes.
“Her on one leg is still better than most,” Gola joked.
Others nominated for the award were Copperas Cove’s Jayda Carter, Harker Heights’ Daniel Cole and Belton’s William Paysse.