By Thomas Sellers Jr.
What was a key factor getting Millington’s Casey Tarwater to the college level of softball?
“Definitely toughness going through all those practices and all those injuries,” the former Lady Trojan catcher said May 29 moments after signing her letter of intent to play at Southwest Tennessee.
And those who attended her signing ceremony in the Millington Central High School Library echoed those words. Her new Head Coach Keith Gentry said it was clear to see Tarwater’s toughness behind the plate.
Casey’s mother Anita said growing up with her and husband Chuck, that trait was nurtured and developed. And Casey’s former coach Rick Hearn said the guts and leadership Tarwater displayed for the black and gold has helped continue a tradition of Lady Trojans heading to the next level.
“Casey is one of our old school players,” he said. “She’s been with us for four years and was a three-year starter at catcher. We converted her during her sophomore year to a slapper. She did a good job at that her sophomore and junior year. This year we struggled and she was the backbone and leader of the team.”
In 2011, Tarwater was given the challenge of replacing one of the best Lady Trojans of all time in catcher Heidi Molder. She filled in those shoes behind the plate catching April Lewis and Tori Davis.
Tarwater helped Millington stay competitive in District 14-3A being a dependable part of the battery.
Molder hit nearly .500 her senior season with power. Tarwater was counted on for that type of production at the plate. Hearn employed her to use her speed by developing a slapping style.
The veteran Skipper said Gentry and his Lady Salquis program will benefit from Tarwater’s other natural ability, speed.
“She runs real well,” he noted. “So I’m sure Coach Gentry will work with her in college getting her to slap and bunt a little bit more. She’s middle infield. She had to catch for us out of necessity. She did a fine job but with her speed and quickness and the way she can throw a ball, she’s more suited for middle infield. I think that is where her true talent lays.
“She’s hard-nose and a team player,” Hearn added. “She loves to play the game. That’s what we loved about her. She went out and competed four years for us. She knew she had to catch because we really didn’t have anybody else. If Katlyn didn’t get hurt, it would have been those two in the middle infield. That would have made us stronger up the middle.”
Anita said Casey learned how to play different positions working with her dad Chuck in the yard. The Tarwaters started investing in their daughter’s love of the game at an early age.
“It’s so important for her to sign because Casey has worked so hard,” Anita said. “She started out playing Tee Ball when she was 4 years old. That’s how long she has loved the sport. She’s played off and on in school all four years. It’s always been her dream to play softball in college. So it’s nice to see her dream come true.”
Toughness helped Casey’s dream come true. But it was another factor that put Tarwater over the top to reach her goal of college softball.
“Definitely confidence,” Casey said. “I realized the need to take control and do this.”
That confidence was evident in May during the District 14-3A Softball Tournament in Arlington. Tarwater was in control working with her young pitching staff one more game. She kept Rebecca Smart, Ally Hall and Emily Stewart calm while directing the defense from behind the plate.
“That game I saw her play in the district tournament, I could tell automatic, ‘This girl is going to give all she’s got,’” Gentry recalled. “‘She’s going to be a hard worker. And she’s versatile.’ She caught but I understand she can play any infield position. She’s a good athlete and making good grades doesn’t hurt either. She’s the type of player I would like to have for all those reasons.”
Millington fell short that day but Tarwater left a lasting impression on Gentry with her determination and leadership. Hearn said that was the case the entire 2013 season.
“I’m sure it was frustrating because she’s used to winning,” he acknowledged. “But she had to endure a season to where we were learning and passing on the legacy to the younger players. Her calmness behind the plate allowed Rebecca to pitch well and Ally for the future. We’ve got to have a catcher for the future, so hopefully somebody will step up like she did.”
Tarwater said knowing younger Lady Trojans like Alex Ballard, Ashlee Bone and Ariel Trice were looking up to her kept her fighting for the Millington Softball Program despite aches and pains.
“It makes me feel a whole lot better to know folks looked up to me,” she said. I knew if I played hard they would feed off of what I was doing. I wanted to show them how to keep fighting.”
That was something Casey picked up from her parents.
“It’s built into her,” Anita said. “It comes from my husband and me in what we do for a living. We’re in law enforcement. But Casey has that internal grit and perseverance. She has always been tough. As a kid she would get hurt, get back up and keep going. It’s her drive to do it.”
Anita said team, confidence and her daughter’s trademark toughness will be guiding factors the next two years at Southwest for Casey.
“It just lets me know she has that inter strength,” she concluded. “When she wants something, she’s going after it and she’s getting it. She’s not going to give up and she’s going to give 110 percent. She wants to work as a team and work with the other players to see them all do well.”