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The Bradsher Beat
Wednesday, February 24, 2010

By Bethany Bradsher

Strong medicine has its purpose

By Bethany Bradsher
All rights reserved.

The women on the East Carolina softball team know that you can’t ignore their 2-7 record. They know you’ll look at that disappointing start, but they sincerely hope you’ll give those first nine games more than a passing glance.

Look at the margin of victory in their three games against No. 3 Florida. In all three contests, the Pirates lost by just one run.

After the final matchup the Gators’ head coach called the Pirates “the best 2-7 team I’ve ever seen.”

Look at the power of Pirate hitters like Marina Gusman-Brown, batting .423 with 11 hits and four RBI, and Charina Sumner, who has collected 10 hits and three RBI.

Take time to examine the cool head and steady arm of pitcher Toni Paisley, the defending Conference USA Pitcher of the Year who has already struck out 52 batters this season, including 10 in a 7-2 victory over Campbell.

The early slate, which came in two Florida tournaments, do spell a degree of disappointment because ECU is an experienced, talented team with players who believe they can compete with any team in the country. But they are far from downtrodden as they prepare to host the Pirate Classic this weekend featuring Delaware, Towson, Penn State and Morehead State.

“I think we have been playing very well,” said veteran coach Tracey Kee, who earned her 575th win at the helm of the ECU softball team on Feb. 13. “We get a break one way or the other, and any one of those losses could easily be a win.”

Even if the Lady Pirates would love to have a different kind of early record, Paisley and her teammates wouldn’t trade the experience gained from sharing a field with the likes of Florida, Georgia Tech and Kansas.

“If you look at our schedule compared to years past you know that we’re playing big teams, playing Florida three times, and it’s awesome for your strength of schedule, and it’s awesome to see where we’re at,” Paisley said. “If you followed our games — two of them were 4-3, one 1-0. You can’t ask for more but a win, and it’s going to come.”

While Kee found plenty to like in her team’s trips to Florida, she hopes to zero in on one major cause of the close defeats — the Lady Pirates' inability to convert big hits with batters in scoring position. If they can pull out hits at those crucial times, the left column of the team’s record should quickly overshadow the right.

Paisley thinks that it won’t take long for her team to get in the habit of winning.

“We’re regrouping, and we know we’re going to start rolling through teams once we get over this little speed bump,” Paisley said. “We’re going to have a go at these teams (at the Pirate Classic) and try to put a beating on them."

At the heart of the 2010 Pirates squad are its eight seniors, a group that includes six players from either Hawaii or California. Most of those upperclassmen were key elements in ECU’s 40-15 2009 campaign. They also went 19-5 in C-USA last year for the most conference wins in program history, but a first-round loss in the league tournament erased their hopes of qualifying for an NCAA Regional.

When NCAA tournament selection time came around last year, Kee was told that her team was forced to stay home because their schedule wasn’t strong enough. So she promptly scheduled teams like Florida and Georgia Tech to combat that notion. That decision may not have yielded many wins, but Kee and the players are confident that their whole season will be better because of those two weeks in the Sunshine State.

“The mood is still strong,” said senior Gusman-Brown. “ Yeah, there were setbacks, but we’re still playing really good ball. Some opportunities have passed, but there are a lot more coming.”

E-mail Bethany Bradsher

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02/24/2010 02:33 AM

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