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Kasie Conder

Kasie Conder (14) reacts with MSU Billings teammate Leslie Davis after recording a strikeout during the Yellowjackets' game against Central Washington on May 1, 2009.

Kasie Conder rattles off the dates like birthdays of family members.

March 7, the last time she threw a pitch for the 2010 season.

April 7, surgery to repair a twice-torn labrum and the torn rotator cuff of her right shoulder.

Oct. 7, the first time she attempted a pitch.

When the Montana State Billings softball team begins the 2011 season this weekend with its own Desert Stinger Tournament in Las Vegas, no player will more anxious to step back on the field than Conder.

“To tell you the truth, I'm a little nervous to step into the circle again and throw that first pitch,'' admitted the right-hander from Hamilton. “I think I'll be fine once I get that out of the way.”

Conder doesn't know how much she will throw or in what role. “I might pitch some relief,'' she said. “When I was a freshman, I used to ask coach (Tony Stone) when I was going to pitch and he never gave in. He just tells you that day.”

Any pitching role will be fine with Conder.

She took the GNAC by storm in 2009, piling up a 16-4 record with a 1.52 ERA. The GNAC Freshman of the Year struck out 151 batters in slightly less than 130 innings pitched and helped the Yellowjackets win the GNAC title and play in the NCAA Division II for the second time in the program's history.

Everybody expected more of the same for 2010.

And she picked up right where she left off, throwing a 3-hitter in a 3-0 shutout of Academy of Art to start the season, However, she allowed 10 hits against Hawaii-Hilo and 12 against Dixie State in the next two games.

“You could tell she didn't have her normal stuff,'' said Stone. “It was like, 'Something is wrong here.' ''

Conder kept pitching.

“At the beginning of the season I felt fine,'' she said. Conder threw twice against Western Washington, allowing an uncharacteristic 21 hits across two games. Her season came to an end March 7 in the fourth inning against Western Oregon.

“Throwing a curve ball against Western Oregon, I felt a huge tear,'' Conder recalled clearly. “I didn't know what I did but I knew it was serious.

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“Honestly, I thought my career was over.”

Conder finished 2-6 with only 27 strikeouts in 49 innings.

She waited for two weeks before doctors became involved. The diagnosis was grim.

“They had never seen a rotator cuff torn like that, especially for a female at such a young age,'' the doctors told Conder. “They told my parents there was a good chance I might not pitch again. They were not looking forward to telling me that after surgery.”

With her right arm in a sling, Conder could only watch her team finish an inconsistent 22-29 last spring.

“It was very rough to sit out last year and watch the girls play,'' said Conder. “It was kind of a hopelessness because I couldn't do anything.”

Conder endured a summer of rehab last summer in Billings to stretch and strengthen the shoulder again. She tossed her first softball during fall practice. “I threw it about three feet,'' Conder said.

She gradually added distance to her throws, extending to 60 and finally 90 feet.

Her first official pitch from the mound came Oct. 7, six months from the date of her surgery.

“I was very scared and super excited at the same time,'' said Conder.

The big concern was when she attempted her variety of pitches. Conder throws a fastball, riser, curve and changeup, each requiring different torque on her shoulder.

“My first curveball was probably two batter boxes wide and very slow,'' she said with a laugh. “I started moving my pitches in November. When I moved all my pitches, and none of them hurt, I called home right away all excited.”

Conder estimates she's about 95 percent back and wants to pitch in a real game again.

“The big thing is no pain. I'm ready,'' she said.

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