NEWS, NOTES &
The Bradsher Beat
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
By Bethany Bradsher
'Comeback kid' making up for
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(Photo: ECU SID)
Quick: Name the athlete who led East Carolina to wins over Florida State,
Indiana and Virginia in just two weeks time and was also chosen as the top
honoree by Conference USA twice in three weeks.
Stumped? Meet ECU pitcher Toni Paisley, a sophomore from Lakewood, CA, who
missed most of last season with a shoulder injury and has announced her
re-entry to Division I softball in dramatic fashion. Paisley is currently
6-2 with 69 strikeouts for the Pirates (9-5).
She is starting to fulfill the potential that led C-USA to name her Freshman
of the Year two years ago, when she was an eager pitcher from the West Coast
who chose ECU because she discovered that it was “a real family."
Paisley jumped right in
last season in an effort to build on that rookie year, but after playing in
seven games she injured her shoulder and ended her season.
What followed was a
strict rehabilitation regimen that left her hungry for the intensity of
manning the mound during a big-time game. During the preseason, head coach
Tracey Kee even wondered if Paisley was so wound up about her return that
she would come in out of control. But in Paisley’s first appearance – on
Feb. 9 against Virginia, she limited the Cavalier offense to just three hits
and one run and collected eight strikeouts.
“I had been building for
a long time, and I think by the time it was game time, I was ready,” Paisley
said. “There was no question in my mind.”
ECU’s pitching has peaked
recently, with the pitching staff allowing just six runs, three earned, and
recording a 0.68 earned run average in the last four games. Opponents have
struck out 33 times and are hitting just .156 against the ECU staff in the
last four contests.
“I have been extremely
pleased with our pitching,” Kee said. “Toni Paisley has just come back like
we were really hoping she would: Her mindset, her physical ability.”
That Virginia game, and
the Pirates’ other two victories during opening weekend, led to Paisley’s
first C-USA Pitcher of the Week award. But ECU’s next two tournaments after
that – the Bama Bash and the Seminole Classic – presented the squad’s most
daunting challenges and opportunities for players like Paisley to show that
they aren’t intimidated by the top tier of softball programs.
At the Bama Bash, she
struck out 10 to defeat Wisconsin and held Alabama, ranked No. 1 in the
nation, scoreless for four innings even though the Crimson Tide defeated the
The following weekend in
Tallahassee, she picked up wins against Florida State and Indiana and was
recognized with her second C-USA Pitcher of the Week award.
That pair of major
tournaments represented a high hurdle on the Pirates’ schedule, Kee said,
and ECU had some disappointing outings in which either pitching or hitting
was lacking. But for the most part, the team keeps finding ways to stay in
“I think we’ve won games
every which way possible,” Kee said. “We’ve won games with good pitching,
we’ve won games with clutch hitting, we’ve won games with our defense, and
we were in a couple of tight games, against Notre Dame and Michigan, that
really could have gone either way.”
Now that they have warmed
up with fire, the Lady Pirates welcome Houston to town this weekend. The
Cougars are not only ECU’s first Conference USA opponent, they are also the
team that shared the top of the preseason rankings with ECU this year. It’s
a three-game series that can confirm all of the maturation the team has
experienced up until this point, Paisley said.
“I think people are
excited,” she said. “You look at the beginning of the year, and they ranked
both of us at the top; it’s almost like this series is the deciding factor.
It’s the only thing that matters right now.”
The Pirates play Houston
at noon and 2 p.m. on Saturday, and they wrap up the series at noon on
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03/04/2009 02:36:15 AM