JONESBORO — Tuckerman coach Matt Dillon points to MaKaylie Gist’s final at-bat of the Class 2A state softball final as an example of Gist’s calm demeanor on the field.
Gist represented the tying run as she stood at the plate with one out and a runner on third base in the sixth inning against Mansfield. A home run would have tied the game, but the Lady Tigers weren’t going to give Gist a ball she could pull.
“They were trying to nibble on the outside corner and she didn’t bite. She ended up drawing a walk, which ended up being the tying run after I brought Julie Glasgow in to run for her,” Dillon said.
“She’s just really heady, especially for a freshman. A lot of times it takes freshmen a while to get to that point, but she matured quickly and was able to come through for us.”
Gist, the Best Under The Sun Newcomer of the Year, came through in the circle and with her bat for the state champion Lady Bulldogs (29-4).
As a pitcher, Gist compiled a 22-2 record and a 2.31 earned run average while striking out 193 batters in 145 innings. She closed the season with a strong six-inning performance in the 4-3 victory over Mansfield, limiting the Lady Tigers to six hits and three runs while striking out six batters and walking one.
“My approach was just to step it up because I’m a freshman and everybody was believing in me,” Gist said of her approach as a pitcher. “I knew that I had a job to do, but I knew my defense was behind me to make plays. I never had any worries about it.”
Gist, who had a .469 batting average, also emerged as a key run producer. She belted 10 home runs, a team high, and drove in 46 runs.
Mansfield had good reason to pitch Gist on the outside part of the plate. “Inside is my favorite pitch,” she said. “I’ve always hit inside pitches really hard.”
Dillon said Gist doesn’t hit anything soft.
“She hits the ball really, really hard,” Dillon said. “Sometimes she will strike out here and there because she is a power swinger, but man, when she hits the ball, it’s something to watch. In BP, it’s just pitch after pitch after pitch, home runs. All the girls are just in awe of it.”
Dillon said Gist was one of four pitchers the Lady Bulldogs started preparing last fall. Injuries cut into their depth and Gist carried the load through the first month of the season.
When sophomore Kenzie Soden returned from an injury, Tuckerman developed a rotation between the two. Gist was the starter, working deep into games, and Soden would enter in relief.
“Once Makenzie came back, we figured out that MaKaylie was really, really good through five or six innings, and she started getting tired at times, and Makenzie is just such a strike thrower,” Dillon said. “She’s accurate, she’s spins the ball so well. We had a plan that MaKaylie gets us through five or six innings and we would have Makenzie close the deal. The last month of the season, that was the formula and it worked.”
Tuckerman used its pitching formula all the way through the state finals.
After giving up a solo home run to lead off the fifth inning in the title game, Gist retired the final six batters she faced to keep the Lady Bulldogs in the game. Soden pitched a perfect seventh and drove in the winning run in the bottom of the inning.
“Kenzie and I are a great duo,” Gist said. “I pitch with speed and movement and she pitches with less speed, but she can hit any spot you need.”
Gist said she relied primarily on her fastball, curveball and screwball this year. She hopes to spin the ball more effectively next season.
“She’s really intimidating, just a big, strong girl, especially from the left side,” Dillon said. “She throws it upper 50s to low 60s and it’s coming at you different angles, and she spins the ball well too. A lot of it is her angle, being a left-hander. She throws it hard and girls have a hard time centering her up.”
This summer Gist is playing for Firecrackers Arkansas, a team based in Atkins. She has traveled to Alabama, Georgia, Oklahoma and Tennessee for tournaments, with one more scheduled in Tennessee.
This fall, the Lady Bulldogs will start preparing to defend their state title in 2022.
“We’re just going to have to stay focused. We didn’t have a senior and this coming year we’ll have two of them,” Gist said. “We’ll have the same team we did last year and if we come ready like we did this year, I think we’ll have a chance of winning it again.”