2003 ECU Softball Outlook
2003 ECU Softball Outlook
As the East Carolina University softball team embarks on its second season in Conference USA, the Pirates are ready to take the plunge after just dabbing their toe last year. They are well aware of the caliber of play in the conference, the demanding travel schedule, and what type of preparation and hard work it will take to make their second Conference USA Tournament. Last season, the Pirates' goal was to make it to Tampa, Fla., for the tournament. This season is no different, but expectations are higher even though the Pirates return only eight players from last season's 38-26 (10-13 C-USA) squad.
The new-look Pirates are very young and inexperienced, but the core of returners has gained valuable knowledge and has played in this winning program under Head Coach Tracey Kee for two and three years, so those players know what it takes to win at this level. ECU will look to replace five seniors and two starting pitchers with six freshmen and one junior college transfer. This 2003 team's goal is more than just making it to the conference tournament in Houston, Texas; the Pirates want to win once they get there. In order to make it to Houston, these Pirates will have to do it as a team, because there are no established marquee players on the roster.
"I believe this squad will be tested early and often," notes Kee, "but I also believe they have the physical and mental ability to prove themselves as a competitive team, a team that lays it on the line until the final out."
With strong leadership and focus from the upper-class, this squad of only 15 has been pushing one another since the beginning to get better every day.
"I do not believe strength is directly related to numbers in personnel," Kee says. "This small group has been driven from day one. It may be the addition of youth that has sparked this team or simply returners ready to establish themselves as major contributors. These are exciting times in our program. There are so many unknowns but that is what fuels our drive on a daily basis."
Joining her in the circle will be newcomers Brittany Boyd, Brently Bridgeforth, and Chrystal Carter. Each of these hurlers was very successful in high school and has been working very hard to make the adjustment from 40 feet to the collegiate 43 feet. Under Kee's tutelage, these pitchers have been improving daily and will gain valuable experience this year. All four pitchers bring a different style and game to the mound, which is a necessity since Kee will have them pitch "by committee."
"Our staff is lacking Division I experience, but I believe they have the ability to put us in a position to win," Kee says. "They are getting stronger mentally and physically on a daily basis. With this newfound confidence, one can only hope they reap the rewards of hard work."
"We have put a lot of focus on adding depth at our corners," Kee says. "This will allow us to get more sticks in the lineup. Defensively this group has realized the importance of being quick in their decision making as well as reaction time."
The shortstop position will see two new faces this year. Freshmen Christine Sheridan and Jenna Wilson will platoon at shortstop. Each was her state's player of the year her senior year (Maryland and Virginia, respectively). Sheridan will make an impact on the offensive side as well with her quality stick. Wilson will also share time at second base.
"Again we are looking at 2 rookies to fill a key position," Kee says. "I have no doubt in their athletic abilities, but I understand that every game will be a learning experience."
Junior Kristin Johnson returns to defend second base after a breakout sophomore year in which she started 63 of 64 games. Among returners, Johnson is tops in numerous offensive categories: 174 at-bats (first), 46 hits (first), 11 stolen bases (first), .264 batting average (second), 19 runs (third), and 15 RBI (third). Nichols will also see action at second base. Her dedication and commitment over the summer has transformed her into a versatile athlete who can play multiple positions on the infield. Her much-improved offense will also be a key ingredient to a balanced lineup.
"We can go three deep in this position and not miss a beat," Kee says. "Having this versatility will only put us in a better position to compete game in and game out. Depth brings competition to practice, and competition brings out the best in each individual player."
Brickhouse adds serious power to the lineup. She homered twice last season in only 57 at bats. Hill is the fastest on the team and will secure the leadoff spot in the lineup.
Providing that Hill can reach base safely, she should lead the Pirates in stolen bases. She will make an immediate impact defensively and offensively and already has big-game experience after having played on two junior college Division I runner-up teams at Gulf Coast Community College in Florida.
Backing up these outfielders will be Chrystal Carter and Brently Bridgeforth.
"The bulk of our leadership lies in the grass," Kee says of her outfielders. "This is the most competitive and intense outfield I've written in the lineup. Our success will be a direct result of their ability to patrol the outfield as a unit. They take great pride in being the last line of defense, and their blue-collar approach in practice has become infectious. They are wonderful leaders by example."
This 2003 squad is unique in that they have quickly developed their own identity. They are a team that works hard and plays hard. All the returners have been leaders and will bring this young team along patiently and justly.
"We know we are only as strong as our weakest link," Kee says. "As a coaching staff we have challenged each and every one of them to make an immediate impact. We will win as a team and lose as a team. We know this season is a marathon and not a sprint."
And that finish line is in Houston!