One year around Rocky Top and Rainey Gaffin has more than made a name for herself. The former Legacy star was one of the University of Tennessee’s most utilized freshmen, filling an offensive niche as designated hitter.
Her presence in the batter’s box helped the Volunteers win some weighty regular season outings. And her .290 batting average played a role in the team making the Women’s College World Series finals for the first time since 2007.
Gaffin, however, has only scratched the surface of her potential in Knoxville from her coach’s point of view. Not only does Ralph Weekly foresee the feisty rookie maturing into a starter in the field and a more dangerous batter as her career wears on, but he also believes she could move back to a position she dominated in high school — pitcher.
“We are looking at her throwing some innings next year, she has a good drop ball,” Weekly said. “Then the following year, if everything goes alright, she might become a full-time starter.”
Weekly talked with Gaffin about making the move in anticipation of the graduation of one of the Volunteers’ strongest arms. Ellen Renfroe finished the 2013 season with a team-high 221 strikeouts, but enters her final season next year. Gaffin moving into the rotation gives the coach more flexibility heading into the 2015 season, giving the team three experienced arms on the roster.
While Gaffin landed on Weekly’s radar two years ago due to her offensive prowess, much of Class 5A knew her as a defensive juggernaut. The right-handed pitcher started from her junior year on, compiling a 45-2 record and posting a dynamite final year with the program. Gaffin led Legacy to its fifth consecutive state championship her senior year in 2011, striking out 124 batters and finishing the year with a 1.74 earned-run average.
With numbers such as those it is a wonder she did not get picked up as a pitcher out of high school, except for the fact she also tore it up on offense with the Lightning. Her final year alone, she had .591 batting average and a team-record 15 home runs.
A year into her college career, Weekly keeps on finding reasons to be impressed with all of Gaffin’s facets.
“For a girl as tall as she is, she can really move when she runs the bases,” he said. “She is also so patient and collected for a young player, there is not a lot that can get to her.”
Gaffin is anxious to get the ball back into her hand and has already been boning up on her pitches since her team’s run into the June 4 Women’s College World Series championship game. But even in the short time she has been in the ring, she has already found a number of areas of which she needs to work.
“It’s been a challenge getting the pitches to work they way I want,” she said. “And I’m having to work my way back up to the 68 mph range. But hopefully it’s only a matter of time.”
Follow Elwood on Twitter @ElwoodKShelton.