FLORENCE — When junior Emily Gray is on top of her game in the circle, opposing teams have a difficult time getting things going offensively.
On Tuesday night at home against district rival Jarrell, Gray was unhittable. She struck out 16 Lady Cougar hitters while allowing only five batters to reach base on four walks and an error, and she got the decision in a 5-0 victory.
“We were all excited,” Gray said afterward, “because Florence and Jarrell have a little rivalry going, so we really wanted to beat them. We were just so excited, came out here and did our best.”
Gray and senior catcher Courtney Culp have great chemistry with one another, and the comfort level the two have makes it easy for them to perform at a high level.
“I’m so comfortable throwing to Courtney,” Gray said. “She can have me throw whatever pitch, and I’ll be comfortable pitching it, because we understand each other. Once we get going and have a three-up, three-down (inning), it makes me feel really good.”
And ahead 1-0 in the bottom of the fifth inning, it was Culp’s grand slam that gave the Lady Buffaloes (10-3, 4-0 District 25-3A) a comfortable lead they never came close to relinquishing.
The wind was blowing hard and in from right field throughout the game, but Culp squared up the first pitch she saw in the at-bat and sent the ball cutting through the wind and over the center field wall.
“You know how it feels whenever you hit it,” Culp said. “I didn’t get to do my jog, because I was sprinting the whole time. I knew I hit it real hard, but didn’t know if it was going to go over.
“I ran really fast to first, and then I realized there was no ball anywhere. Then I just heard everyone scream, and it was a really good feeling.”
Florence head coach Brett Gola said he did not have the right words to explain Culp’s blast.
“I wish I could say that’s the first time I’ve seen her do that,” Gola said. “She’s a strong hitter. The ball just flies off her bat.”
Overall, when Culp and the pitching staff are working as well as they were on Tuesday, Gola said the trust he has with the players makes coaching the team easier.
“I joke with them all the time about it,” Gola said, “’Hey — I could just roll the ball out there, and you guys just know what you need to be doing.’ They’re not scared to voice their opinion, and if there’s something they see or something like that, it’s really like having nine coaches on the field.
“It makes it a lot easier when I don’t have to coach every pitch or every out.”
Next up for the Lady Buffs is a road game at Blanco on Thursday at 6 p.m.