When she was little, Gabrielle Griego wanted to be a dancer, not a softball player.
To this day the whole cheer and dance scene seems to fit her pretty well, from the megawatt smile to the pink ribbon in her hair.
Ah, but look a little closer and if you ask real nice, Gabby will show you the teeth she broke a couple seasons ago catching a hard line drive to the face during a game for the West Las Vegas Lady Dons softball team.
That harsh shot prompted her dad, WLV head coach Lucas Griego, to order protective face masks for his daughter and her teammates.
It didn’t really slow Gabby herself down, though. She kept right on playing — usually at the demanding position of shortstop — with determination and fearlessness.
“You’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do,” she said when asked about that spring.
That attitude has been a key ingredient in one of the most successful individual careers in WLV softball history. Griego recently learned of her nomination as a MaxPreps second-team All-American in the small schools division. It’s recognition for a five-year run that has included 22 home runs, 87 doubles, 256 total hits and 237 runs, according to program records.
Griego and her Lady Dons teammates still have plenty of softball to be played — they’re gunning for a deep run in the state tournament like they had last year — before she graduates in May. Then it’s off to Adams State, where Griego has signed to continue her education and softball career.
So the ending to Griego’s softball story appears to be well into the future.
The beginning? Her first foray into softball was when she was around 11 and wanting to be like her dad, as she remembers it. Older sister Christian also took up the game and went on to a strong career as a Lady Don.
Lucas said he didn’t necessarily encourage Gabby to play. Softball, as its faithful devotees know, is a dirty, difficult and sometimes brutal passion. The meek may inherit the earth but they don’t generally take a 60 mph softball to the teeth and keep playing as if that were only an appetizer.
“It doesn’t fit,” he said. “It still doesn’t fit. I tell her ‘You look like Barbie and you swing like G.I. Joe.’”
She may have first gotten interested in softball by following her dad, but Griego stayed in the sport because of its own unique appeal.
“It’s a team sport, and I like that,” she said, “but if you don’t get your own thing done, you’re never going to succeed.”
She explained it further, saying that whether you’re in the field trying to make a play on defense or in the batter’s box staring down a pitch, you are on your own.
“I also think it’s a life lesson,” she said. “You can swing for the fences — or you can go down not swinging.”
“It really defines how you handle yourself,” said Lucas, recounting one state tournament game against Silver and a rambunctious group of fans. “Their fans were saying (to their pitcher) ‘Just throw down the middle; she can’t hit nothing.’ And then BOOM!”
Over the years, the game has slowed down a bit for Gabby, who said she has more patience as a hitter, and as a consequence she’s gotten more and more accurate.
While her dad has to maintain a neutral role as coach, he’s also a fan.
“Defensively, she’s as good as most,” he said. “Offensively, I have yet to see a better bat. I’ve seen pitchers who throw 15 mph faster than what we see, and she can hit them. She’s going to be able to keep playing at the next level.”
That means the Lady Don will become a Grizzly playing college ball before too long. Gabby said she’s looking forward to that but will miss playing with her teammates.
And most of all?
“I’ll miss my dad standing at third base and yelling.”