Although the Wewahitchka Lady Gators lost to Jay High in the semi-finals at the 2021 Class 1A softball Final Four, both head coach Justin Smith and talented pitcher Haley Guffey have a positive outlook for the 2022 season.
The Lady Gators, who enjoy a long history of success in softball, return the entire team. With no seniors, “we should be pretty strong,” said Guffey, “if we keep working all year, coming to the field on our own time and getting in the weight room.”
Work seems to come naturally to Guffey, who received high praise from Smith. Calling her “the backbone of our team,” Smith said “Haley is an all-around player. I can put her at any position on the field and she will give 110 percent.
“She’s a winner, no matter the sport she’s playing, but she’s going to college and getting her education as a softball player,” he said.
Gulf Coast State College, and the College of Central Florida in Ocala, are among those who have talked to Smith about Guffey.
“I’m keeping my options open,” she said.
Based on her junior year pitching statistics, more college coaches should take notice. With a final record of 19 wins and only four losses, her season earned run average was a stingy 1.177.
In 154.2 innings, Guffey whiffed 256 batters, an average of 1.66 Ks per inning. Perhaps even more impressive was her strikeout-to-walk ratio of 12-to-1.
Hardly a one-dimensional player, she batted an eye-popping .473, with 10 doubles, one triple, five homers, 26 runs batted in and 11 runs scored.
While she enjoys pitching best, “I like hitting, too,” said Guffey. “Just get up there (to the plate), don’t overthink, and hit the ball.”
The gifted hurler should get plenty of pitching and hitting opportunities over the summer, as she plays travel ball for the Santa Fe Inferno, a team out of the Gainesville area.
Guffey’s pitching coach since she played in the Dixie Youth program, J.D. Green, called her “a winner and an outstanding young person whose work ethic is unbelievable.”
“She’s the first one there, and the last to leave. She never complains, always tries to lift her teammates up,” said Green.
During the off-season, he plans to work with her on agility and making sure that she stays conditioned, in addition to pitching.
“Her best pitch is a screwball,” Green said, “and she wants her changeup to be better.
“Most of the time,” he added, “‘she calls me’ to pitch.
Green agreed with Smith, that “Haley could play anywhere on the field,” being especially good at first base.
“She’s just got a love for the game,” he said.
While she could play anywhere, it is in the circle where both Green and Smith want her to be.
“She doesn’t show emotion on the mound, staying cool, calm, and collected,” Green said. “She will work through a bad situation, and not let things affect her.”
This was Smith’s initial foray as Wewahitchka’s head softball coach after having served as an assistant coach for the three prior seasons. Head baseball coach for the Gators since 1999, he switched to softball four years ago.
“People are going to expect us to win next year, with Haley and the other players returning,” said Smith. He expects the team’s toughest competition to come from Bozeman, Franklin County, and Liberty County.
With the full squad returning, next year’s team looks solid, “as long as we keep working and don’t get lax,” said Guffey. “We want to use the loss to Jay as motivation for next year, too.”
As to the prospect of facing Jay again, Smith said “when we make it to the Final Four next year, Jay will be there.”