Before heading home for Winter Break, junior pitcher CheyAnne Gaskey and the rest of the Racer softball team received a focus word for the upcoming season: Invested.
Prior to the start of each season, second-year Head Coach Kara Amundson and her coaching staff pick a word for their team to focus on. Last year, the word was fearless.
The word served Gaskey well as she took on a much larger role in the Racers’ pitching staff. The Morgantown, Ky., native appeared in 38 of the team’s 53 games, posting a 13-9 record and racking up six saves – a Murray State record and good for sixth most in the nation.
In the fourth season in program history, Gaskey led the Racers to the OVC Championships where they defeated No. 1 Eastern Illinois before losing in the semi-finals to Jacksonville State.
Gaskey pitched the final 2.2 innings of the game, where she allowed no runs and only two hits. The team came up short, however, as the game ended in a heartbreaking 2-1 loss – handing Murray State a third-place finish to end the season.
“Last year was awesome,” Gaskey said. “We’ve always had great team chemistry and that’s really important to us and to our success. That really carried us through last season. Third place is not bad, but we were all very disappointed. We all thought we should have won and we know we had the talent.”
Long before Gaskey’s breakout season, however, she dominated batters with the Butler County High School team.
Gaskey was immediately thrown into the fire as a freshman when an older pitcher suffered a season-ending injury.
“I had an older pitcher above me and she kind of took me under her wing and taught me,” Gaskey said. “But, she ended up getting hurt so I had to take over during my freshman year. At the time I didn’t know what I was doing, but looking back that was so good for me. It made me such a better pitcher by my senior year.”
This proved to be the first step in a remarkable high school career. Gaskey pitched in all but one of the Bears’ games during her four-year career. She helped lead the team to its first district championship during her junior season. The team then repeated and earned a second championship in Gaskey’s senior season.
As she began looking at colleges, Gaskey had her mind made up.
Though former Murray State Head Coach Jay Pyron recruited Gaskey throughout her high school days, she initially declined his offer, planning to attend Western Kentucky.
“(Western Kentucky) was 20 minutes from where I lived and I wanted to stay at home,” Gaskey said. “I’m very close to my family, and I didn’t want to go far from home, so I just planned to walk on at Western (Kentucky).”
However, the story took an interesting turn and Gaskey called Pyron to see if he still had any openings.
“We had a bit of a miscommunication with the coaches at Western (Kentucky), so I got on the phone with (Pyron),” Gaskey said. “I talked to him and told him the situation and he told me, ‘I still want you.’ At that point it didn’t matter if I was going to be homesick. I had worked hard to play softball and that’s what I was going to do.”
Gaskey admitted it turned out for the best.
Now looking ahead to a new season with a new focus, Gaskey finds a deeper meaning in the word invested.
“I couldn’t think of a word that fully described what invested meant to me,” Gaskey said. “So I picked a number – 110 percent. For me, invested means that I’ll be at practice every single day, giving every single thing that I have. That’s not just physically, but it’s mentally as well. It also carries over to the rest of my life, just making sure I’m constantly in the present and focused.”
As the Racers begin their season today against Central Arkansas at the Tiger Classic in Baton Rouge, La., Gaskey said the team is on the same page as far as its goals for the 2014 season.
“Invested is a great word for us this season because we have to stay focused on the long term and what we want out of this season,” Gaskey said. “We know what we want – we want that ring at the end of the year.”
Story by Jonathan Ferris, Staff writer