BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON
Arkansas senior third baseman Hannah Gammill has her smile and her swing back after a summer in which she fell back in love with softball.
She flashed both in her team’s 7-2 fall exhibition scrimmage over McLennan Community College last Sunday and also Friday night while co-captaining a team in the program’s Razorbacks Unlimited intersquad scrimmage.
Gammill was one of 16 players to compete for the USA National Team in Japan on Aug. 4-7 in the cities of Fukushima, Iwakuni and Yokohama .and also played in for Triple Crown in the Canada Cup.
She had earlier participated in the U.S. Women’s Fast Pitch Camp in Vero Beach, Fla., on June 13-15 that was a precursor for USA team, which also featured Razorback teammates Rylin Hedgecock and Nikki McGaffin.
“I had a great summer, a lot of fun and just was able to get back to being the player that I am, one that loves the game and enjoys the competition,” Gammill said.
“Especially being my senior year, I think there are a lot of emotions with that and I think it is really cool to compete with people that have played at different programs.
“For us to come together and some of us learn new positions and others stay where we are, seeing us compete as a team is fun.”
Gammill was tabbed a NFCA first-team All-American after a 2022 sophomore season in which she hit .374, 18 home runs and had 51 RBIs.
She was one of three Razorbacks who earned preseason All-American status before her junior campaign, but the former Beebe standout struggled at the plate as a junior.
Beginning the season at catcher, Gammill only hit .236 with 6 home runs and 26 RBIs and failed to meet her own expectations in her team’s 40-19 campaign.
“I think it was really good for me to play this summer,” Gammill said. “I think playing with USA, but also playing with Triple Crown was really exciting. Not only just because of success, but you are going across the country to play and you are playing against those that are doing this all the time.
“Here in Arkansas we have off breaks, but people in Japan are playing constantly. I was really fortunate to have that opportunity.”
Arkansas head coach Courtney Deifel, who said she considers Gammill like a daughter, is pleased to see her smiling and not pressing as she did last season.
“I am just really proud of her,” Deifel said. “It has always been a dream of hers to wear USA, wear the red, white and blue, so getting to see her compete in Japan in that uniform and perform in that setting is just really, really cool. It literally has always been a dream of hers.
“What I enjoy even more through the Canada Cup and in Japan was seeing her just having fun, kind of settling in and seeing flashes (of old). More than anything she just grinded this (last) year and it just happens.
“But she didn’t give herself a break and I think we saw this summer that she just kind of like loosely went and competed and have fun and that is who Hannah Gammill is.
“I think she hit .500 in the Canada Cup and had some crazy numbers and we obviously know she is capable of that. She just got to give herself a break mentally and just enjoying it and just playing her game.”
Deifel made it to Japan to watch Gammill.
“It was fun getting to hear her perspective of Japan and the culture,” Deifel said. “It should come as no surprise to anyone that knows here that the Japanese players actually embraced her.
“Hannah has no boundaries, no personal space. I would see pictures of her hugging her Japanese players on their national team. It’s pretty cool and easy to see that I think they took to her.
‘It was just a really great experience and I know she is ready to get to work. It’s hard to believe she has just one more year left…She is really set on having a great year.”
Gammill is overjoyed that Arkansas teammate and close friend Hedgecock decided to use her final year of college eligibility instead of entering the business world after graduating.
“I got Rylin back,” Gammill said of recruiting her friend. “That was really fun because I thinking that was going to be the only time I would get to play with her anymore and that was really sad.
“She was asking me questions and I was like ‘Rylin, just come back. You have one more year.’ It’s just really good to have her back.”
Gammill loves the talent acquisition Arkansas has had with four portal transfers and four national top 60 freshmen while adding in coaches Danielle Gipson and DJ Gasso, whose mother Patty led her team to a sixth national title in Oklahoma City last season.
“For sure, Gammill said. “We always talk about how we are going to in the national championship, we are going to go to OKC and that’s what really good about having Coach Gasso here.
“We also have four really good transfers and four really good freshmen and our past people coming back. Our lineup is really stacked.”
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The 2024 Arkansas softball season will begin with a trip to Florida Atlantic per Deifel before traveling for a tournament at Arizona and then hosting three straight home tournaments.
The SEC released the conference schedule earlier this week and it has Arkansas hosting home series against Mississippi State (March 22-24), Missouri (April 5-7), Alabama (April 19-21) and Ole Miss (May 3-5).
The Razorbacks will travel to Auburn (March 15-17), Mississippi State (March 22-24), Georgia (March 29-31), South Carolina (April 12-14) and LSU (April 26-28).
The SEC Tournament is May 7-11 at Auburn with Arkansas expected to released its full schedule soon.
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Friday night’s two Razorbacks Unlimited scrimmages pitted Team Priggie/Hardwick (Gray) vs. Team Gammill/Turner (Red).
The Razorbacks Unlimited scrimmages were adopted by Arkansas in 2020 and follow a similar scoring format to Athletes Unlimited, where individuals earn points.
The top four players in individual scoring per Deifel on Friday were Spencer Priggie – who blasted a two-run homer – Auburn first baseman transfer Bri Ellis, pitcher/infielder Hannah Camenzind and Hedgecock.
The squad will scrimmage again next Friday at 5:30 with Team Priggie/Hannah Camenzind going against Team Ellis/Hedgecock in another Razorback Unlimited scrimmage doubleheader that is open to the public.
Photo by John D. James