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Before Alyssa McBride was hit by the two pitches that have the Michigan State softball program under fire, the key witness in the saga expressed concern a player might soon be hit intentionally by coaches during batting practice.

MSU softball student manager Ben Hayden told his fellow manager about a disturbing conversation he had heard on the team bus between two coaches before McBride had been hit by a pitch during batting practice before a game at Central Michigan.

A retired police official believes that Hayden telling someone before the incident took place is key testimony. "It lends tremendous credibility to the circumstances involved when you put everything together," said David Gutierrez, a state trooper who spent 25 years on the force.

In a police report obtained exclusively by The Detroit News on Monday, Hayden told Michigan State Police that shortly after getting off the team bus in Mount Pleasant prior to the April 29 game, he chatted with fellow manager Austin Krus.

According to the report, Krus said he and Hayden were either just off the bus or out in the field setting up when Hayden informed him about a conversation he had just heard between head softball coach Jacquie Joseph and assistant Jessica Bograkos. Hayden said they were out in the field setting up a camera and computer.

Hayden, who was quoted anonymously when The News broke the story last week, is now being identified because his name appears in the police report. He told police what he told The News -- that while sitting in the third row of the bus on the way to the game, he overheard Joseph say, twice, to Bograkos, "You can hit her."

Hayden, at the time, said he didn't know who the coaches were talking about when the conversation was taking place, though he was aware McBride had been called into Joseph's office earlier in the day. Hayden didn't mention any names to Krus when he told him about what he had heard.

Krus told police he was "shocked" when Hayden told him, and called the alleged coaches' plan "a stupid thing to do."

Krus, a sophomore at MSU, also told state police he was concerned his talks with police might bring about an issue between him and the coaches.

During a batting-practice session at CMU, Bograkos allegedly sent a pitch toward McBride's head. McBride, who wears a helmet but not a face mask, was able to avoid serious injury, as the ball nicked her right wrist.

After the game, on the bus ride back to East Lansing, McBride texted Hayden that she'd been hit by Bograkos during batting practice.

Hayden's first three responses, all in a minute, according to text messages in the police report:

* "Are you serious????"

* "No way"

* "Coach J told her to"

Four days later, prior to the season finale against Maryland on May 3 at MSU in East Lansing, Bograkos again sent a pitch toward McBride's head -- and this time, McBride could only get her arms up. The ball hit her flush in the left arm, leaving a big bruise and swelling.

The next day, the State Police investigation was officially underway.

Hayden spent two years as the student manager for the MSU softball team, and spoke highly of his time with the team to The News and in his conversations with Chuck Christensen of the State Police.

Hayden told police the coaches "were always good to him and helped him out," and, "he wished he never heard this conversation because of the opportunity he was afforded by working as an MSU team manager."

He made a similar comment to The News, saying he wished he'd never heard the alleged conversation between Joseph and Bograkos. But he's maintained that he hadn't misheard anything, and that he's telling the truth.

Hayden's account and credibility could be important factors for prosecutors in Ingham (MSU) and Isabella (CMU) counties; they must decide whether or not to charge Bograkos and Joseph.

"Does it make the case? No," said Peter Henning, a professor of criminal law at Wayne State University. "But it is important. It strengthens the credibility."

Henning said police and prosecutors are always looking for corroboration.

Bograkos maintains she never hit McBride on purpose and that the bus conversation never took place. She told police she's hit "hundreds of players" in batting practice. Joseph, who was not interviewed by the State Police, denied the allegations in her only statement to the media, issued last Friday.

tpaul@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/tonypaul1984

mcharboneau@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/mattcharboneau

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