By Andrew Bettencourt
When she was 3 years old, Kelcey Carrasco was diagnosed with leukemia — acute lymphoblastic leukemia (most common childhood cancer).
Doctors told her that playing sports would help in her battle against the disease, improving her coordination and stamina. She joined a Visalia Youth Softball Association league when she was 6.
Today, Carrasco, a Tulare Western senior, will sign a letter of intent to attend Michigan State on a softball scholarship.
“I’m really excited for this opportunity. This is what I’ve been working for. It’s great to see my dream come true,” Carrasco said.
Carrasco’s leukemia was placed in remission within seven days of her diagnosis — there were no tumors to complicate her fight — and she reached 8 years old without suffering any major setbacks or a recurrence of leukemia.
It was also when she was 8 that Carrasco became very serious about playing softball.
And it didn’t take long for softball coaches to notice her talent, playing on a travel team that took part in tournaments throughout the state.
“When they’re 8, you have no idea that it could be this serious about playing softball. She was committed to it, so we supported her,” Rudy Carrasco, her father, said.
She would later join a local 12-and-under travel team led by former Redwood star Hillaree Bennett.
“That’s where I started to discover the love of the game. I knew from then on, when it came to softball, it was ‘Go Time,’” Carrasco said.
By the time she entered high school, Carrasco was making a name for herself at the youth level.
She earned an invite to try out for OnDeck Softball, an organization that helps expose top-tier players to college programs. The connection with OnDeck Softball led to an invite for a camp conducted by the Arizona State softball program.
“It was scary at first. I was definitely nervous for that. Going into the camp, I was playing my best softball. I wasn’t performance nervous. I was emotionally nervous. But I had a great camp,” Carrasco said. “Arizona State was really interested. That was definitely exciting. That was the first time a school had shown interest.”
During her freshman year at Tulare Western, Arizona State extended a scholarship offer to Carrasco.
“After that, we definitely knew she had a chance top pursue her dream,” Rudy Carrasco said. “We thanked God for the opportunity that this was going to happen.”
The Arizona State offer launched an avalanche of interest from other schools. Oklahoma, California, Fresno State, Washington and Boise State were amongst a large group of schools that started to pursue Carrasco.
And then there was Michigan State.
“At first, Michigan State was in my top 5. I didn’t think I wanted to go that far away from home,” Carrasco said.
The Spartans were dedicated in their pursuit, though.
During a summer tournament in Colorado, a couple of members of the Michigan State coaching staff watched her play extensively.
She took an unofficial visit to Michigan State in September of 2013, and that trip played a major role in changing her mindset about leaving home for a Big Ten school.
“That visit made me fall in love with Michigan State. It was a beautiful atmosphere there, beautiful school. The girls on the team we’re so welcoming. It was very family oriented. I really started to see myself going to Michigan State after that,” Carrasco said.
But just days after Carrasco came back from her visit, Michigan State assistant softball coach Charles Fobbs, who was the primary coach recruiting Carrasco, was killed in a car crash.
Her interest in the Spartans didn’t waver.
Michigan State head coach Jacquie Joseph ensured Carrasco that she was a top priority for the Spartans for the Class of 2016, and Carrasco gave Joseph her verbal commitment in October of 2013.
With her commitment out of the way, time to take it a little easy, right?
“No way,” Carrasco said. “When I committed to Michigan State, I made a promise to my dad that I wasn’t going to stop trying. The real work was just beginning. We came up with a plan, and followed it. I was able to relax, and just concentrate on playing softball.”
The numbers speak for themselves.
Michigan State landed one of the nation’s premier power hitters in the Class of 2016 in Carrasco.
Carrasco, the 2015 East Yosemite League most valuable player, posted monstrous stats in her junior campaign. Carrasco owned a .500 batting average with 10 home runs and 47 RBIs. She had a slugging percentage of .958 and an on-base percentage of .595 (1.553 OPS). The 2015 Times-Delta/Advance-Register first-team catcher was also a stalwart defensively. It was uncommon for teams to steal a base off her, and five who tried were thrown out.
FloSoftball, a a national recruiting website dedicated to softball, ranked Carrasco as the No. 92 overall player in the nation for the Class of 2016, and the top player in the Michigan State class.
She took her official visit to Michigan State in October with the other student-athletes that were scheduled to sign their letters of intent this week. The visit included a Michigan State home football game against Indiana, and watching Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo conduct the Spartans’ “Midnight Madness” event.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better official trip than that,” Carrasco said.
Although Michigan State is more than 2,300 miles away from home, Carrasco’s family and friends can watch several of her games on the Big Ten Network, and all of the Michigan State softball games will be streamed live on the Big Ten website.
“It’s been quite a ride,” Rudy Carrasco, a Tulare Western Dean of Students, said. “(The program) with Hillaree (Bennett) was the game changer. That changed Kelcey’s mindset, our mindset. It took it to another level.
“With what she went through as a child, her mom and I wanted to do everything we could to support her. We wanted to help her live her dream, and she’s going to live it.”