One of the most obvious differences between collegiate softball and baseball rosters is the number of names on the pitching staff. Because of the difference in the wear and tear exacted by the different throwing motions, baseball teams carry ten or more pitchers, while Division I softball teams can get by with as few as two.
But just because they can manage with a staff that small, that doesn’t mean it’s preferable. The 2020 version of the East Carolina softball team is enjoying the luxury of fielding four different pitchers who can contribute in different ways in different situations.
A well-stocked toolbox at that key position, as well as in other areas of the field, gives the players and staff confidence as they prepare for two consecutive home tournaments.
“I’m really excited about the depth that we have on this team, especially in the circle,” said head coach Courtney Oliver. “It’s not something that we’ve had in the past. Having four pitchers that can throw consistently throughout the weekend and contribute has been huge for us. We’ve also got a lot of depth in other positions as well, where we’re going to be rotating through our lineup a bit just to give people opportunities and see who steps up and who performs.”
Those four pitchers — juniors Whitney Sanford, Erin Poepping and Kama Woodall and freshman Logyn Estes — all got to contribute in the Pirates’ opening weekend at the Kickin’ Chicken Classic in Conway, SC, a tournament that allowed the coaches to test those various lineups and see players step up behind the plate in five games against Iowa, Campbell twice, host Coastal Carolina, and Virginia Tech.
After their team emerged from the tournament 2-3, two ECU seniors spoke of the talent, depth and unity they saw and the strength their team gained as they prepare to play for home crowds at the Pirate Clash this weekend and the Pirate Invitational next weekend.
“Overall, it was a super positive weekend,” said catcher Abigail Umphlett. “I feel like we came out very strong defensively and offensively. We were hot in those first few games. I think it was a good sign, just seeing everybody come out and the team working together as a whole.”
With talented teams like DePaul, Pittsburgh and Massachusetts coming to their stadium to play in their two tournaments, the Pirates are spending their weeks of practice focusing on the key areas the coaches deemed it necessary for them to sharpen after their opening weekend.
Umphlett knows her team will be tested, but she said, “I don’t know if it’s that they’re challenges — I think they’re opportunities to get better.”
Outfielder Olivia Narron, who collected five hits and four runs for the Pirates last weekend, said the outfield’s emphasis this week has been on good communication and pinpoint throws, and on offense they have focused on situational hitting.
In addition to the abundance of talented players at pitcher and other places on the field, the 2020 Pirates are also characterized by strong junior and senior leadership, she said, and those experienced voices have helped the underclassmen embrace the culture and work ethic of the program quickly.
“‘I feel like we’ve all just kind of bought into our program, what we want to do here, and we have a lot of leaders to lead the freshmen and underclassmen, let them know what the program’s all about,” Narron said.
Two newcomers in particular have made their presence known right away — freshman Logyn Estes, a Swiss army knife of a player who clinched her first win as a college pitcher and hit her first college home run in the same game when the Pirates defeated Campbell 4-1 on Sunday, and junior transfer Chandley Garner, who came to ECU this fall from N.C. State and currently leads her new team with a .400 batting average.
Those two, along with veteran contributors like Narron, Ashleigh Inae and Rachel McCollum, could help produce some exciting home field moments for the fans that come to get their first look at the team this weekend.
“We’ve got a lot of games coming up and every game is important,” Oliver said. “We don’t treat anyone different from the other. I always tell the players, we don’t play to the name on the chest. We play everyone the same, and we respect the game.”