PILOT POINT — It was not a surprise to her teammates, or to the fans of Pilot Point’s softball team, but it might have come as a bit of a shock to Princeton.
In last Thursday’s postseason opener for the Lady Cats, freshman shortstop Preslee Gallaway let her presence be known, going 3-for-3 with a walk, four RBIs and a run in an 11-1 victory over Princeton that helped vault the Lady Cats to a sweep of their Class 3A Region II area-round series.
“She came out and crushed the ball,” Pilot Point head coach James Ramsey said of Gallaway. “She drove in a lot of runs for us. She did a great job at the plate. She didn’t let the pressure get to her at all. She’s been like that for the most part this year. Now, our first district game this year she came out nervous and struggled, but since then she’s been solid. It hasn’t been an issue.”
After all, the first playoff game for Gallaway was nothing more than just another game in her eyes.
Gallaway, who missed 13 games earlier in the season with a hand injury, has been a huge part of the Lady Cats’ success en route to their District 9-3A championship and 23-13 mark heading into Friday’s one-game regional quarterfinal playoff against Lovejoy.
Batting in the cleanup spot, she is second on the team in batting average (.444), second in home runs (two) and leads the team in RBIs (27) and stolen bases (10 of 10). She also is tied for the team lead with six doubles.
“I play year-round softball, and I just get used to it,” Gallaway said of hitting in key situations and big games. “I just love playing the game, and the fact that it was the playoffs wasn’t that big of a deal. It was just another game.”
The Lady Cats aren’t short on players who were big contributors as freshmen. There’s Allison Strittmatter, the sophomore team leader in home runs who played a key role last season. There’s also junior Skylar Cagle, who was the team’s starting pitcher as a freshman and has since had two more highly successful seasons in the circle.
But when it comes to varsity success as a freshman, there might not be anyone in Pilot Point with more experience than Abby Watson, who has been a star in softball, basketball, volleyball and track as a freshman and earned countless accolades in every sport.
Now a senior, Watson was busy playing volleyball and basketball when softball was in the offseason, but she heard of Gallaway’s feats and knew her success this season would come.
“I had heard about her, but since I’m in all my other sports I didn’t really get to see her,” Watson said. “I just heard people talking about her. I’ve known her since I was little and she’s always been like a little sister. I just saw her nailing the ball in the first practice and her swing is so beautiful. It’s really strong and powerful.
“We heard about her last year. She was on a select team and hitting bombs like crazy. She got out here in fall ball and she was hitting line drives like no other. She was a really consistent hitter. Then I got out here and saw her and knew it would be amazing to have her.”
That type of talk can lead to some pressure on a young player, and Gallaway was no different.
“It’s a lot of pressure from outside the program,” Cagle said of being a freshman in such a key position. “There’s also a lot of pressure on yourself, too. You want to do great and show that what was being said was true. She did a good job of proving that.”
Thirty-six games into the season, no one on the Lady Cats sees Gallaway as a freshman anymore. They see her as an accomplished cleanup hitter, shortstop and pitcher who has put up a 5-1 record with a 1.05 ERA as the No. 2 starter behind Cagle.
Ramsey conceded his team will have to hit better with runners in scoring position against Lovejoy than it did last season, when the Lady Cats were swept in an area-round series, 1-0 and 6-3.
The key component in that task is his prized freshman cleanup hitter, and he would not have it any other way.
“We’re going to need timely hits,” Ramsey said. “When we get people in scoring position, we’re going to have to drive runs in.
“I wouldn’t have her there [in the cleanup spot] if I didn’t have confidence in her.”
Gallaway said she and her teammates are up for the challenge and any opposing pitcher will have trouble with the 3-4-5 spots occupied by Cagle, herself and Strittmatter.
“Skylar in front of me helps because I know she’ll get on base and I’ll hit her in,” Gallaway said. “Then when I’m on base, Allison will hit me in. There’s just confidence throughout the lineup. We know we can get runners on and get them scored.”
ADAM BOEDEKER can be reached at 940-566-6872. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .