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The Bradsher Beat
Wednesday, March 28, 2012

By Bethany Bradsher

Ladies battle-hardened by early gauntlet

By Bethany Bradsher
All rights reserved.

There’s nothing simple about the Conference USA portion of the East Carolina softball schedule, but as they face their league foes the Lady Pirates can be fairly certain of one thing: No opponent has been through the kind of early season testing they have survived.

In less than three weeks, the squad competed in three tournaments — in Alabama, California and Arizona — that pitted ECU against five nationally-ranked teams. And even if the Lady Pirates lost more than they won against those giants, the trips provided matchless preparation for conference series like the one they swept last weekend against Texas-El Paso.

“We saw the best competition we probably could see,” said sophomore Jordan Lewis. “I think it’s a pretty good accomplishment to be able to play the 1, the 2, the 12, the 15 and the 24.”

Lewis was the offensive star of the UTEP series, batting .455 for the weekend with 5 RBIs and 4 runs scored. She was so dominant that she was recognized on Monday as the C-USA Hitter of the Week, the first individual conference honor for a Lady Pirate this season.

Lewis, a sophomore right fielder from Fremont, CA, emerged quickly as a freshman, even earning the same Hitter of the Week award at this time last year. She was named to both the C-USA All-Freshman Team and the All-Tournament Team last season.

Head coach Tracey Kee called Lewis “one of the most intimidating hitters I had ever seen” when she was still a recruit.

But even if she accomplished more in her first year than some hitters do in a college career, Lewis has been determined to elevate her game even more lately. She has spent extra time on the practice field perfecting her hitting form. Her numbers at the plate in recent games prove the classic sports adage — hard work really does pay off.

“You know as a hitter what things you need to fix, and I’ve just been putting in a lot more time in the past week,” Lewis said.

On the offensive side of the ball, Kee has been confident that her team would find its stride, especially since all of the team’s top hitters from last year returned. The glaring question mark, caused by the graduation of star pitcher Toni Paisley, was on the mound. But with wins in all three UTEP games, Sarah Christian has helped ease some of those concerns, Kee said, and fellow freshman pitcher Courtney Smith has also shown signs of growth lately.

“Our pitching is still slowly coming along, and just trying to hold us in games,” Kee said. “I think if we can just build on that, if we can get both of these pitchers up and going we’ll have a much better chance at conference.”

Christian, a D.H. Conley product who grew up watching the Pirates play, said that the adjustment to Division I hitters and the college routine continues to be a process, but every week she feels more comfortable with her role. She said that she trusts her teammate to produce on offense and back her up on defense.

Even if the C-USA schedule didn’t start out like the Pirates had hoped — they were swept at Tulsa — the early road trips and stellar opponents have given the women a steadfast belief that they can stand up to anyone. No game between here and the rest of the season should present the kind of challenge they have faced thus far, and the team is playing with confidence and strength.

““We can’t see anything better than what we’ve seen,” Lewis said.

After a midweek trip to UNC-Wilmington tonight, the Lady Pirates will travel to Orlando for a weekend series against Central Florida, followed by a doubleheader at North Carolina State next Wednesday.

E-mail Bethany Bradsher

PAGE UPDATED 03/28/12 12:26 AM.

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