Mighty Casey

Most people, at least most baseball fans, have heard the classic story of Casey at Bat. But in the end, Casey fails. He fails to hit the game-winning homerun and just stands in Mudville, in the rain, wondering how he struck out.

Then there’s Casey Hudspeth. As a vital part of the USF baseball team, his story is different. Although only a sophomore, last season Hudspeth became the No. 1 starter of USF’s pitching rotation, sort of by default, though he is well-suited for the role.

“It’s an honor (to be the No. 1 starter). I really didn’t come here to compete for it, but it’s just an honor,” Hudspeth said.

The Sarasota native can command a fastball like he was hurling a whiffle ball. That fastball, by the way, is in the low 90s, while his breaking ball curves like a turn on a roller coaster. Although, those pitches are only in the high 80s. No big deal, right?Not to USF coach Eddie Cardieri.

“He’s really matured, not only as a player, but as a person as well,” said Cardieri, who comes into the 2005 season in his 20th year as head coach. “He’s just come a long way. He has the equipment. Not only does he have the ‘stuff,’ but he has the mental capacity to be a Friday night starter. The No. 1 starter.”

Not only has Hudspeth stepped up to the challenge of leading his team into a three game set through the weekend, but he’s bolstered a pitching staff that, according to Cardieri, is nothing like that of last year’s.

“It’s way deeper,” Cardieri said. “There’s no other way to put it. We’ve been in a situation where we had to milk guys an inning or two more than we wanted to, or have the luxury of having a guy like Joey Livingston, who basically had a rubber arm, where he could throw everyday and eat up innings.

“And on this staff, all of our 15 pitchers can go out and give us a chance to win. This is as deep of a staff as we have had in 10 years, but it’s a very young staff. Two seniors, and then you’re looking at all freshmen and sophomores.”

But Hudspeth, for one thing, has the support of the veterans.

“He’s got the right attitude to be a starting pitcher,” said third baseman Jeff Baisley, who drove in 20 runs on 36 hits last season. “He goes right after hitters. I mean, he’s not scared of anyone. He’s got pretty good pitches and he can throw all of them for strikes.”

Said Cardieri about his young pitcher’s attitude, “He was voted as one of our captains, and that says a lot as a sophomore. It says what the rest of the team thinks of you. So he’s a guy, maybe without even trying or necessarily being real vocal about it, that is one of our leaders.”

In 2004, Hudspeth had an 8-4 record, pitched 104 1/3 innings – a team high – and had a team-best ERA of 3.45 and 74 strike outs.

“I think our team knows that he’s going to go right at hitters,” Cardieri said. “He works quick and he’s going to give (the team) a chance to win every time he’s out there, and I think our players know that.”

With all the numbers Hudspeth put up, he still wants to do one thing and one thing only this season: make the Conference USA tournament.

“I think we are much more improved as a team, from last year,” Hudspeth said. “Last year, there were a couple of individuals that worried more about their own stats or the draft. I want to end this year in the conference with a big impact, win the whole thing, hopefully.”

But Hudspeth knows he has come a long way. He said he had help from older players last year, and even though he sits atop the rotation, he just tries to keep his head level.

“There’s always (going to be) added pressure, but if I just go out there and pitch my game, everything will be fine,” he said. “I would say I’d like to get 12 to 13 wins. (Strikeouts) would be nice too, but I’m more concerned about wins.”