Lauren Graves’ dedication to softball was never more evident than on Friday, May 23.

Lauren Graves’ dedication to softball was never more evident than on Friday, May 23.

After leading the White Hall Lady Bulldogs to a win in the 5A state championship game, Graves left Fayetteville that night to head for Dallas to play in a softball tournament the following day.

"I already had my bags packed," she said with a laugh.

That kind of dedication is a prime reason why Graves, who only just finished her sophomore year, already knows where she will play college softball.

"I’ve committed to Idaho State," she said. "I committed in about mid-February."

Graves is The Commercial’s Southeast Arkansas Softball Hitter of the Year after batting .459 with a .512 on-base percentage to go with six home runs, 34 RBIs and 30 runs scored.

"You pick a spot where you want to hit it," she said. "Just pick a place where you want the ball to go, but just think single.

"Most of the time it will be better than a single, but just think single."

It’s a somewhat ironic approach, considering Lady Bulldogs coach Terri Smith called Graves "a very aggressive batter."

"We tell her to wait on her pitch, Smith said." "We tell her she’ll get something much better. But it’s just swing, swing, swing. It’s like that with most of them. We tell them to wait on their pitch and that you don’t have to swing at the first one. …

"But she’s definitely a strong batter. If she connects, you don’t want to be in the way of it."

Smith said Graves’ impressive sophomore season should be credited to her confidence and work-ethic.

"I personally think it has a lot to do with her confidence," Smith said of Graves’ success. "She plays a lot of travel ball and she gets put in that situation in other games besides high school.

"It gives you the confidence to know that you’ve got the ability. …

"She has a really good work-ethic. She works her tail off at practice, and then pitchers and catchers stay after that so they can get used to each other."

Despite her hitting prowess, it’s Graves’ standout pitching that has her primed to play at the next level. In the circle, she finished the season with a 1.54 ERA and 80 strikeouts to 41 walks in 81 2/3 innings.

Graves said her pitching style is "men’s fast-pitch style," so finding a college that wouldn’t look to change it factored into her decision.

"I got to know their coach and pitching coach," she said of Idaho State. "I found out their pitching coach throws men’s fast-pitch style. Her name is Jessica Moore. She pitched for Oregon and the U.S. National Team.

"So I went and took a visit. And it was like how you go somewhere and it feels like home and you know it’s the right fit for you."

Graves said she’s hoping to fill a void Idaho State had this past season.

"They hit really well," she said. "I think they had like the seventh-best batting average in the country. All they need is a strong pitcher. I’m excited to go there and hopefully help them out.

"People will ask me sometimes, ‘Why would you choose Idaho State?’ I just tell them it’s the right place for me. I love it and I’m not changing it."

With her college decision already made, Graves can focus on her two remaining years at White Hall. Smith will look to help Graves continue to improve, while also counting her blessings that Graves is on her squad.

"As she gets older and more experienced," Smith said, "she’s going to be tough to deal with at the plate and every time she’s in the circle. …

"I’m really glad she’s got on a Bulldogs’ jersey."