Senior softball pitcher Dixie Raley has experienced major growth throughout her time as a Gamecock, and she now is transitioning into her last season at South Carolina.
“I’ve definitely grown a lot, especially my freshman year,” Raley said. "I remember the very first game I threw in, I threw like eight straight balls over the catcher's head and then luckily I struck out the next three, but now as a senior, especially being here, I feel myself as a leader on the team.”
Raley’s softball career started at Georgia Southern from 2016-2017, where she lead the Eagles in appearances, innings, strikeouts and in ERA. She transferred to South Carolina in 2018.
During the 2018 season, Raley finished with nine complete games and two saves. Raley also earned the win against Liberty in the Columbia Regional, and she remembers stepping onto the mound to focus and deliver the pitch, which ultimately won the game.
“Last year everything was kind of new, and it was really awesome,” Raley said. “It almost was like someone wrote a story to come in and have the success that we had.”
That 2018 victory meant the Gamecocks would advance to their second ever Super Regional in the program's history. Raley said that experience was definitely motivation to achieve that goal again in 2019.
The role that Raley stepped into this year as a senior has definitely made an impact on her team. Giving advice to her teammates, especially pitchers and newcomers, comes naturally to Raley.
“I kinda have influence on the players and how as a pitcher especially I set the tone, and so just knowing kinda like how the players look up to me and knowing how I can sway the momentum of the team and the impact that I have,” Raley said. “It's something that I am aware of, especially now as a senior.”
Raley said she admires the leadership and ownership that head coach Beverly Smith has given her. Raley said that she has taught her so much as a player, even though Smith is just now taking her second year at South Carolina.
“Especially watching her coach and listening to the things she says and how she handles situations and watching her do interviews and stuff, and the way that she goes through things, she’s so good at what she does," Raley said. "I'm very grateful and honored to be able to play for her,” Raley said.
Another person that Raley said she has always had a softball connection with is her father, Rip Raley. Her father coached Raley from when she was three years old until she graduated high school.
“When things get hard ... I can always call him and remember he gets as much joy as I do,” Raley said. “So it’s always a cool way to kinda give back to him.”
Raley said she hopes to take advantage of every opportunity that is given to her in her final season, because it's the last of everything.
“It’s definitely motivation," Raley said. "I do want that, I guess just like that moment and everything that was around it. That is definitely something that I crave as a player.”
Raley and the Gamecocks know what it is like to be on the cusp of making history and following through with that ambition, and they have carried that mentality with them into the 2019 season.
“For the returners to know the feeling and know what it's like, we have that hunger to get there and so we kind of have not an aggressive anger, but just that hunger to get there,” Raley said. “And for the freshmen, that's kinda the expectation now for them.”