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The Bradsher Beat
Wednesday, April 22, 2009

By Bethany Bradsher

ECU softball team eyes strong finish

By Bethany Bradsher
All rights reserved.

There’s an impressive statistic about the East Carolina softball team that speaks volumes about the tenacity of the Lady Pirates’ pitching. When they have scored more than two runs this season, they are 34-1.

Unfortunately, the flip side of that phenomenon shows that when the Lady Pirates score less than two runs, they are 0-10.

It was that second trend that was illuminated in Tuesday’s 1-0 loss at North Carolina. The loss dropped the Lady Pirates to 34-12 overall, but had no effect on ECU's league-leading 17-4 record in Conference USA.

The loss to the Tar Heels, who extended their winning streak to 22, was the Pirates’ first loss since the last time the two teams met and North Carolina won 2-1.

With four seniors and six juniors in the starting lineup, the Pirate players are encouraged by their team’s consistency lately. Things are coming together, they say, at exactly the right time, after a 5-5 start that could have shaken their confidence.

“It seems like there’s nowhere to go but to get better,” said sophomore pitcher Toni Paisley. “Our struggles came at the beginning of the season, in finding what we needed to fix, and every week is something better. We’re not going backwards at this point.”

“We just needed them to stay patient and continue to work on their skills and trust the fact that they were headed in the right direction,” said head coach Tracey Kee.

Paisley’s success this season – after sitting out last year rehabbing a shoulder injury – has been a high-voltage spark for her team. Not only is she pitching with no pain at all and feels like her best is yet to come this spring, Paisley has been named C-USA Pitcher of the Week a record seven times in a 10-week season. Last week, her seventh to win the honor, saw Paisley winning all five of ECU’s games, striking out 41 batters and posting a 0.76 ERA.

Early in the season, it seemed like Paisley’s dominance on the mound would carry the season, but in recent weeks the Pirate bats have made their presence known, with players like Jessica Johnson, Cristen Aona and Angel Barrella leading the charge at the plate.

“Our pitching came out of the gate a little sooner than our hitting did, but our hitting is coming on,” Kee said. “And I think the thing that makes it so interesting is that it’s someone different every game. You never know who’s going to get a clutch hit or draw a key walk.”

Last weekend, in the Lady Pirates’ sweep of Memphis at home, Paisley was pleasantly surprised by her team’s complete attack all the way through each game. Often the players are starting to show some weakness by the Sunday game of a weekend series, she said, but on Sunday the Pirates combined for 11 hits in their 6-1 win.

“To see double-digit hits up on the board was great,” Paisley said. “I couldn’t have been happier. I was like, ‘I got this. You guys hit for me, and I’m going to pitch for you.”

As the Pirates hit their stride, they are developing the one habit that every coach hopes to instill in a squad – the habit of winning.

“I feel like we’ve improved a lot lately, especially with all the games we’ve been winning,” said Johnson, a senior first baseman. “I think once you start winning, it gets fun and it’s easier and easier to keep winning.”

The Pirates will look to assemble a new winning streak this weekend with a two-game home series against UNC-Greensboro, followed by a road series at Marshall, then three more home games before heading to El Paso for the conference tournament from May 7-9. With just one victory against the Thundering Herd, the Pirates will break the program record for most C-USA wins in a single season.

“We really are capable of doing big things,” said Barrella, a senior from Holbrook, NY, who scored five runs last week. “We have something special this year, and we really want to prove that to a lot of people.”

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04/22/2009 03:07:04 AM

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