By DANNY P. SMITH
It had always been Chelsea Raines' dream to play softball at Mississippi State.
Raines has been able to do that the last couple of years as a member of the Lady Bulldogs.
That time for the Ackerman native is coming to an end.
Raines steps on the MSU Softball Field for the final time in a competitive situation when the Bulldogs take on the LSU Tigers in a three-game Southeastern Conference series.
Even though she has tried not to think about it, Raines is coming to grips with the close of her playing career.
"I catch myself sitting in the dugout with the girls and they are just laughing and having a good time," Raines said. "I think about how I'm going to miss them so much because this will be my last year to play competitive sports and I'll never get to play a game on my field, my State field and my dream field. Ever since I was little, I watched them play.
"It's been a blast and a good learning experience, especially last year getting to see the pitching, fielding and hitters. It's completely different from junior college ball. (In the SEC), they hit the ball a lot harder."
Raines came to MSU after two years at Holmes Community College and still finds it hard to believe sometimes she has gotten the opportunity to play at MSU, at the Division I level and in the SEC.
"When I look down and see SEC on my arm, it tells me that I've made it," Raines said. "Even though I'm a starter, it still gets to me sometimes."
Raines has started 48 of 49 games this season for the Bulldogs and has hit .273 with six home runs and 26 RBIs in 132 at-bats.
MSU (23-26 overall, 9-13 SEC) hosts LSU today (5 p.m.), Saturday (1 p.m.) and Sunday (1 p.m.). Prior to Sunday's game that will be televised by SportsSouth, Raines will be honored along with fellow seniors Ali Bainbridge and Courtney Nesbit.
"I'll be sad and will probably cry," Raines said of how she will handle the moment emotionally. "I'll cry when I take off my jersey, especially."
Raines plans to get her degree, then possibly launch a career in coaching or teaching. She'll be fine with either as long as softball figures into the equation somewhere.
"I've got to have softball in my life," Raines said. "I would like to build a good program for schools even if they don't have a good program, I would like the challenge. I want to help troubled kids and make them better. Sports is good discipline so if a kid has good discipline they'll be better too."