The MSU softball team is off to its fastest start in history. Included in the victories was a win over Arizona, the pre-season number 1 ranked team in the nation. The early season success has hinged mostly on the arm of one of the team's seniors, not the left arm of three-time all-American Kellie Wilkerson as most would expect, but from senior right-hander Kasey Whitehead"> The MSU softball team is off to its fastest start in history. Included in the victories was a win over Arizona, the pre-season number 1 ranked team in the nation. The early season success has hinged mostly on the arm of one of the team's seniors, not the left arm of three-time all-American Kellie Wilkerson as most would expect, but from senior right-hander Kasey Whitehead">

RELYING ON FAITH

<img src="http://www.genespage.com/images/01players/softball/2002/whiteheadshot.jpg" align="left" width="119" height="165"> The MSU softball team is off to its fastest start in history. Included in the victories was a win over Arizona, the pre-season number 1 ranked team in the nation. The early season success has hinged mostly on the arm of one of the team's seniors, not the left arm of three-time all-American Kellie Wilkerson as most would expect, but from senior right-hander Kasey Whitehead

"I don't deserve any of the credit for these wins over the past few weeks," said Whitehead. "This has been a gift from God. He has blessed us with the ability to go out there and play, and we have gone out there and played as a team."

While the country might be surprised of the quick start of the now No. 24 ranked Lady Bulldogs, the team was not. These players started preparing early this summer for the upcoming season.

"This summer I became a Christian, and finally found a place that I could go for comfort," said the very happy senior. "There was a group of us that got together and decided that we were going to act different on the field and off. When you have a core group of people get together, the rest of the team just wants to follow."

These new attitudes first made it to the field in Arizona, and helped push the Bulldogs to the tourney victory.

"While we were there, we prayed as a team before every game. That was something that we hadn't done before," said Kasey. "Doing that helped us to focus on other things. We didn't get down when someone made an error, or when we were down in a game. We just played with a different purpose."

Kasey started quickly in the Arizona tourney, three-hitting No. 17 Southwest Texas State, then earning a relief victory over Texas Tech, and finally going the distance for the victory against the then top-ranked Wildcats. With her three victories, Kasey earned SEC pitcher of the week honors for the first time.

"I just thank God for the ability he has given me. It feels great to go out and compete. Weeks like that just help to build your confidence, but all I did was throw and let my defense do the work. They should get the credit," said Kasey.

While the Bulldogs have leaned heavily on Kasey for a lift from inside the pitching circle, Kasey has relied heavily on what she calls her "bread-and-butter."

"I don't throw the ball 70 miles per hour, so I don't look to strike people out," said Kasey. "I have to rely on my knuckle-ball. That is my best pitch. If I can throw it for strikes I can allow the defense behind me to win the games."

Kasey has everything working now, but three seasons ago she was looking just to contribute. She originally went to the University of Alabama to play softball, but after her freshman season transferred to State.

"There was nothing really wrong with Alabama, it just was not the place mentally or spiritually that I needed to be," said Kasey of her decision to travel the 72 extra miles to Starkville. "I really like Starkville. The small town atmosphere really makes me feel at home. And I couldn't ask for a better team."

Growing up just outside of Atlanta, Kasey excelled in softball during her high school career. During her prep career she was named the Georgia player of the year in 1997; helped lead her summer team, the Georgia Phoenix, to the ASA national championship; and was invited to the USA/ASA junior Olympic tryout.

"I really loved playing during high school," said the Roswell, GA, native. "We just had fun during school ball. Summer ball was when you really got seen."

Kasey had a little tougher time during summer ball than the other girls because of the coach.

"My dad was the coach of our summer team, and he was really hard on me. Sometimes I didn't understand why, but I am really glad he did now," said Kasey. "My dad is like my best fan, and he would do anything in the world for me."

After all the success she has enjoyed during her playing career, it is not surprising that Kasey would want the ball in key situations. The only difference in Kasey and other players is how she gets the ball.

"For most of the other pitchers, the coach will get the ball before every inning and had it to them," explained Kasey. "I don't let that happen. I want to be the only one touch the ball. I have a few other things that I do, like not touching the line on the way to the circle, and I draw a cross behind the rubber before every pitch."

While Kasey might be different in her approach to superstition on the field, her goals for the team fit right in line with everyone else's.

"I want to get the World Series," said Kasey. "I think we have everything in place for a run at that. We just have to keep playing as a team and focusing on God."


Grant Alford is a free-lance correspondent for Gene's Page. He is a student at Mississippi State University and works as a sports reporter for the student newspaper, The Reflector. You can contact him by email at hammer634@hotmail.com.

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