NEWS, NOTES &
The Bradsher Beat
Wednesday, February 15, 2012
By Bethany Bradsher
Batting prowess aids
softball's 3-1 start
(ECU SID image)
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For baseball and softball teams from the icy
North, February is usually the month to migrate to Southern tournaments
where the weather is mild.
But last weekend, in the midst of the East
Carolina softball team’s season-opening tournament, that scheduling theory
hit a snag. Gusty wind and temperatures that hovered in the low ‘20s and
felt colder became a recipe for that rarity in the South — a canceled
The Lady Pirates, with input from their
opponent Virginia, played four games in the Pirate Classic — going 3-1 —
before the final game against the Cavaliers was canceled on Sunday
Despite the climatic setback, head coach
Tracey Kee viewed the weekend as an encouraging start and a close-angle view
of the team’s strengths and struggles.
“When the team from Buffalo says it’s too cold
to play, then the rest of us kind of fell on board,” she said.
The most prominent question mark in the
preseason revolved around the pitching mound, where Toni Paisley held court
until her departure last spring. Paisley broke nearly every ECU pitching
record during her career, and Kee has been preparing a trio of freshmen —
Courtney Smith, Sarah Christian and Emma Mendoker — to fill her shoes.
Mendoker has been limited by an injury, but Smith and Christian each picked
up wins and showed the ECU coaches some good things in the Pirate Classic.
Christian finished the weekend 2-0 with
victories over Canisius and Drexel, and Smith was 1-1 with a win in the
second Canisius game and a loss to Virginia, a strong team with a dominating
pitcher in Melanie Mitchell. Even though her team lost to the Cavaliers,
Smith gave up only four hits and no strikeouts in the outing and gained
larger measures of her coach’s confidence.
“I thought she had a fabulous weekend on her
first outings,” Kee said of Smith, who showed her versatility by starting
two games and also coming in to relieve Christian in the other two. “I
thought she did an unbelievable job against Virginia just scattering the
three runs. As a freshman in her first outing, that’s not a bad job.”
Smith, who came to Greenville from Yuba City,
CA, was honest about the state of her nerves before she took the mound on
Friday — she had butterflies, she said. But with every pitch she became more
comfortable with Division I intensity and boosted her trust in the infield
Without a dominating pitcher like Paisley,
ECU’s pitching strategy has shifted from putting teams away with pitching to
getting the ball in play and letting the fielders take over.
“Right now, the way the freshman pitching
staff is working, we’re just trying to keep the ball on the ground and let
our defense work for us,” Smith said. “I know they’re going to make the play
behind me when the ball gets on the ground.”
The Lady Pirates have just a few days this
week to sharpen fielding skills and tighten offensive strategy, because on
Friday they welcome the field for their second consecutive home tournament,
the Pirate Clash. With a field featuring Hofstra, Fordham, UNC-Greensboro,
Louisville and Virginia, the tournament is also expected to feature sunny skies
to woo Pirate faithful or even those who just wander over from the baseball
team’s season-opening series against Milwaukee.
“With baseball starting, we tend to get a lot
of people who come early or stay late, and they kind of wander over and see
there’s something pretty neat here," said Kee. "But I think we’re doing a
great job of establishing our own fan base as well. I think a lot of people,
with our successes, have gotten a little bit hooked on it.”
If the pitching staff is still leaving Pirate
fans guessing, the ECU hitters are forming the backbone of the team in these
early games, Kee said. The offensive attack has been led by dynamic bats
like sophomores Kristi Oshiro and Alex Fieldhouse, who combined for five
RBIs and three runs on Friday night against Canisius, and Jasmine Robbins,
Abby Wynne and Suzanne Riggs, who all hit home runs on Saturday.
The Lady Pirates have started with a spark at
the plate that should arm them well going into this home stand and the
string of road trips — lasting nearly a month — that commences after the
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