Nothing was made of it at the time, but Brittany Gray’s first pitch on Feb. 10 officially started the second half of her softball career at the University of Georgia.
Gray has tried to maximize every moment.
“Oh, my gosh. It’s so hard to believe it’s my junior year,” said Gray, who verbally committed to the Bulldogs in November 2011, during her sophomore year at Greenwood Community High School. “Now that I’m here, I’m living the dream.
“Just the coaches and all of the teammates I’ve had. It’s about being part of something bigger than myself. I still get to go to the softball field every day.”
Gray, the Daily Journal’s Player of the Year her final three seasons with the Woodmen (2012-14), is the No. 1 pitcher for the 11th-ranked Dawgs, who take a 15-3 record into today’s home game against the University of North Carolina-Wilmington.
She sports a 9-1 record and 1.16 earned run average. Gray’s dominance is also displayed through her 43 strikeouts in 48 1/3 innings of work.
“Brittany is such a great player for us. She wants the ball in any game and is just a tough, tough competitor,” said 17th-year Georgia coach Lu Harris-Champer, who has led the program to 15 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances and a pair of Southeastern Conference championships.
“But she’s always been that way, a hard worker who is always team first.”
One of only two Midwesterners on the 23-player Georgia roster (the other is senior utility player Maeve McGuire from Illinois), Gray made an immediate impact once she arrived on the Athens campus.
In 2015, she worked 137 innings for a 15-6 record, including a five-inning no-hitter in a victory against Indiana. As a sophomore, Gray was credited with 11 wins and five saves. She authored another no-hitter against Winthrop in which she fanned 11 Eagle batters.
Playing softball in the SEC, a league responsible for three of the last five national champions (Alabama in 2012 and Florida in 2014-15), is its own field of dreams given the perfectly manicured venues of the south.
Gray even looks forward to three-hour bus rides to Auburn, perhaps the most intimidating SEC softball environment based on the location of the Tigers’ supporters at Moore Field.
“Their fans are right on top of you. It’s so intense,” Gray said with a laugh. “Every team in the SEC is good. It’s crazy because you can win the first two games of a series, and the other team can always come back.
“It’s never easy. It’s anyone’s game at any time, which keeps things interesting. But all of the places we go are beautiful.”
This includes the Bulldogs’ own Jack Turner Stadium, a picturesque 1,400-seat slice of the south. As a freshman, Gray played in two of the six most attended games in stadium history — against Florida (1,848 fans) and Alabama (1,801).
Playing for the Woodmen, Gray could dominate simply by overpowering opposing hitters.
She now hits 70 mph on the radar gun with her fastball, throws breaking pitches in the 63 mph range and owns a 48-mph change-up.
Gray, though primarily a starting pitcher during her college softball career, has at times been used for middle- and late-game situations because of this array of speeds.
Her versatility was on display during the Bulldogs’ recent participation in the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic in Cathedral City, California, located seven miles northwest of Palm Springs.
Georgia lost its first two games to ranked programs, No. 23 Brigham Young and No. 4 UCLA, before dropping a 10-7 decision to unranked Notre Dame.
It was Gray’s two strong appearances in relief that helped the Bulldogs salvage the trip by defeating Northwestern and Cal State Fullerton in its final outings.
“Brittany can handle any part of the game because she has three different speeds she can throw effectively,” Harris-Champer said. “That’s one of the most remarkable parts about her, because it’s something not a lot of players can do.”
Best season yet
A look at some of Brittany Gray’s best outings this season:
Feb. 12;East Carolina;7;3;3;3
Feb. 25;Cal State Fullerton;5;3;1;3*