In her junior season at Academy High School in Little River, TX, Gabryella Hay is making the most of her season with the bat and in the circle for the Lady Bees, who are 20-3 and 8-0 in District play at the time of this writing.
The 2016 Softball Factory Pre-Season All-American made a start on the mound earlier this week, helping to lead her team to a win over the second-place Lady Lions, striking out seven in the team’s 6-0 win. She also helped her cause, chipping in with two hits to give Academy a two-game lead over Franklin.
It’s been quite the transformation for Hay, from her first ever Softball Factory event to being a leader on her high school team from the experiences learned during her time with the Factory.
We first saw Gaby in September of 2015 at an Under Armour Softball Factory College PREP event as a LHP/OF. It was during this time that Gaby was unsure of whether to pursue collegiate ball, but once she stepped on the field and realized that she was actually out-performing the other players who showed up that day, it seemed that a spark was ignited.
“What was lacking from Gaby’s game prior to Softball Factory was confidence,” said Jessyca Hedrick, Gaby’s mom. After her successful outing at the College PREP event, Hay came into contact with her Player Development Coordinator, Julia Rice, who played collegiately at Purdue University and later at Mercer College. That meeting helped to grow Gaby’s confidence, and so to her game and the drive to be the best she could be.
“Once Gaby had a chance to speak with Julia on the phone for the first time, that spark turned into a small flame,” said Jessyca. “After our trip to Dodgertown for the Christmas Camp & Tournament, I can tell you that there is a giant burning flame that will never be put out. Gaby’s passion for the game has returned stronger than I’ve ever seen it. She has always been a hard worker, but now she puts in twice the work because of the sheer desire to be the absolute best.”
In Florida at the All-American event, conditioning became an important piece of the puzzle for Gaby, something she credits Coach Jarvis and the rest of the staff for implementing.
“We were dead tired at the end of every day because of how hard they pushed us. That’s when I learned to look for motivation in my other team mates and coaches. Coach LJ (Lea Ann Jarvis) always said, “The only two things you can control are attitude and effort.” No matter how tired I was, I tried to maintain a high level of energy and support which made me not think about myself but rather my team. In my final day of the camp, Coach LJ talked to us about truly loving the game of softball and showing that on the field. Just by hearing her talk about the game, I could tell how much she missed it and made me want to play hard just for her. I was intimidated by Coach LJ at the camp until I created a relationship with her and then had nothing but respect for the way she wanted the game to be played.”
Her skills have grown over the last year and a half and Hay, who showed well not only as one of the top players at January’s premier event in Vero Beach, Florida, but in leadership too according to one of her favorite coaches, Ty Rietkovich.
“Gaby really stood out at the All-America games in January,” said Rietkovich, National Showcase Director for Softball Factory. “She was versatile in the field, was very composed in the circle, did a great job at the plate and was very aggressive on the bases. Her leadership abilities came through as she helped us mesh as a unit for these games. Really says a lot about her character and love for the game.”
Once Gaby received the call to go to the Pre-Season All-America Team, she was confident and excited to get back and play games again.
“This time it was more laid back because less skill development was needed and more actual games were going on. Again, I built a great bond with my coach for my team who was so funny. Coach Ty made sure we realized how important it was to recognize our team mates great plays and our personal accomplishments as well. He explained that there was too much negative in the world to not speak up anytime something positive happened. As he would say, “there’s a place for everybody,” which reassured us all that we would be going somewhere to just keep working hard and be patient.”
That experience undoubtedly has translated well to her season so far. Gaby has been outstanding in District play for the Lady Bees, allowing just two earned runs in 39 2/3 innings pitched (a minuscule 0.45 ERA) with 44 strikeouts. She’s getting it done with the bat as well. During the team’s pre-season tournaments, Hay slammed three home runs and is hitting .500 in District play with a team-leading seven doubles and 10 RBI (good for second on the team).
The experiences with the Softball Factory have never left Gabreylla, from coaching instruction, all the way down to the little things that add up in the way you bring professionalism to the softball field.
“Looking back on my experience with the Softball Factory, I learned and got much more out of it than ever I thought I would,” Gaby remembers. “From day one, we got to work and learned how to do everything the RIGHT way. I still remember the first time we all went to go stretch and warm up. Everyone had thrown their gloves down kind of scattered in a small area. Coach LJ immediately fixed that and had us line them up on the fence and made sure we all set them down gently. Something as small as that made me realize that taking pride in even your equipment was very important.”
Learning new drills and techniques through Softball Factory events has helped to set a new tone for her high school practices.
“On my high school softball team, we now line our gloves up on the fence and it makes me feel so good seeing them nice and neat because it shows how we take pride in our things. More importantly though, I became a better softball player mentally. I learned how to push through hard practices without giving up and working together as a team in everything.”
Coming to events for the first time and meeting new people can be a bit overwhelming at times, but the relationships forged during this time are things that Gaby will keep with her the rest of her life.
“The girls I met and played with were all so different and fun to learn about. This was the first event I’ve ever been to an event where people came from all over the US. Learning how to play with a whole group of people I had never met before in my life was challenging but so fun! The relationships built in such a short period of time is something I got to take away from the camp and keep for the rest of my life. I keep in touch with many of the players and it feels great knowing I got to be apart of their journey just as they are a part of mine. ”
“Thanks to SF, Gaby now has friends all over the country. She has the confidence to know that she can pick up and play with anyone willing,” said Jessyca.
Gaining the experience and knowledge navigating the college recruiting process alongside the Softball Factory are things that both take with them as Gaby begins looking towards the next chapter of her career and life.
“I should mention that seeing so many coaches in one setting during our Christmas Camp helped her realize that in looking for the best college program, she needs to have great chemistry with the coach. She saw so many different styles that she realized what works best for her, and what doesn’t. This experience has added that critical component to our search for a college program of choice.”
It’s the hard work on and off the field that Hay is putting forth that will allow her to make the easy transition to the next level. Hay’s ability to slap and hit for power, make her a dual threat at the plate. Couple that with a solid presence on the mound in the way she’s able to attack hitters and you have the makings of a great player. Jessyca credits her daughter for sticking with softball and the Softball Factory for helping to guide Gaby.
“I just can’t say thank you enough to everyone on the SF team. They have all helped save her game and even take it to places we had never dreamed were possible.”
Gaby takes one more important piece of information she learned from coaches at events; that your parents are and will always be with you every step of the way. Remember to thank them.
“All the coaches stressed how much we needed to thank our parents for their help and support as well. It made me wish I thanked my mom more for all that she’s done for me. The money and countless hours spent to come watch me play, take me to practices, allow me to play in the summer.”
Looking back, Gaby realizes that she’s playing for something bigger than just stepping in between the white lines and throwing or hitting a softball, she was placed here for a reason, to leave things as a better person and player.
“All in all, I had one of the most amazing experiences of my life in Florida. I have so much more pride and knowledge for softball. I now realize that I’m playing for something bigger than just myself. Glory to God.”