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The Bradsher Beat
Wednesday, November 18, 2009

By Bethany Bradsher

New stars step up for Lady Bucs

By Bethany Bradsher
All rights reserved.

Ashley Clarke remembers vividly how knotted her nerves were when she took the court for her first Division I game. It was, after all, only a year ago.

But on Friday, as the East Carolina Lady Pirates made their entrance and prepared to face UNC-Charlotte in their season opener, the sophomore guard felt only adrenaline as she took her starting position.

When the final buzzer had sounded, Clarke had moved herself decisively out of the rookie column with a career-high 22 points.

The Lady Pirates put a boldface letter on the front of their season that night with an 84-61 win over a 49ers team that won the Atlantic 10 Tournament in March. But Clarke wasn’t done with her opening act.

On Sunday, Western Carolina came to Minges, and Clarke was the Pirates’ top scorer with 20 points en route to a 70-59 ECU victory. It was an outstanding one-two punch and a confidence builder for Clarke and her team, who face UNC-Wilmington Thursday in their third straight home contest.

"We came out with a lot of intensity both games, and defensive stops,” Clarke said. “The biggest key this year is playing as a team.”

Every Lady Pirate knew that the season’s biggest challenge would be rising above the loss of guards LaCoya Terry and Jasmine Young, the team’s two top scorers who combined to average nearly 30 points a game in 2008-’09. Clarke may only be a sophomore, but she is carrying part of that backcourt burden on her shoulders.

“With losing Jasmine and LaCoya, someone has got to be step up to be a leader,” said Clarke, who averaged 3.7 points off the bench last year as a freshman.

Clarke came to ECU from a standout career at Myrtle Beach High School, and she chose to become a Pirate because she connected with the coaches and thought their aggressive defense and energetic style of play was a perfect complement to her strengths. In high school, she was the conference player of the year for three straight years.

Leadership is also coming from fellow guard Allison Spivey — who also had a career-high against UNCC with a team-leading 25 points — junior forward Kim Gay, sophomore forward Chareya Smith and sophomore center Jean Best, who worked her way into the starting lineup last season and averaged 8.4 points a game.

The team’s offensive strength is its ability to score from any position on the floor, said head coach Baldwin-Tener, who instituted a new offense this season to optimize her personnel.

Since the 2007 squad qualified for the NCAA Tournament, the Pirate Nation has followed the women’s basketball program with increasing fervency. The crowds may not be as large as those at the men’s games, but they are loud and involved.

Baldwin-Tener’s hope is that Minges Coliseum will become increasingly well-known in Conference USA and beyond as a venue where opposing teams dread playing.

For her part, Clarke hopes that attendance will increase for every home game, starting Thursday against regional rival UNC-Wilmington. The Lady Pirates are ECU’s only undefeated team, and the fans can be a factor to help them stay that way — especially when six of their first seven games are on their home court.

“I think we’ll keep bringing in the crowd,” she said.

E-mail Bethany Bradsher

Bethany Bradsher Archives

11/18/2009 05:05 AM

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