2007 ECU Softball Preview
Feb. 5, 2007
GREENVILLE, N.C. - Coming off a 40-24 season that ended in the second round of the Conference USA Tournament, the Pirates hope to start their 2007 campaign the way they ended the regular season, winning six straight. The success of the team will depend heavily on senior pitcher Keli Harrell, who was named First-Team All-Conference USA last season. Harrell has broken the majority of the ECU pitching records and is now chasing the C-USA record of Depaul University's Lindsay Chouinard, who ended her career with 858 strikeouts.
If the Pirates are going to try to amass their 60-win season of 2000, coach Tracey Kee along with associate head coach Natalie Kozlowski know that this is the toughest schedule that ECU has faced in the program's 24-year history.
"I believe this game schedule will challenge us early and often," said Kee. "Within the first two weekends we are playing five NCAA 2006 Regional participants. Overall our schedule has nine NCAA Regional participants with 16 games involved. Though this is the case, I believe our squad is up for the challenge. Never before have we had a team so committed to developing their skill level, strength training and cardio. As a staff, we can only hope this pays huge dividends come spring."
The challenging schedule at the beginning of the season against some of the best teams in the nation, will be a measuring stick to see how ECU stacks up against the tough competition they will face in conference play.
"I believe Conference USA is full of parity," Kee said. "Anytime you have nine teams vying for six tournament spots, every game is competitive and crucial. Our players understand this and this is their driving force."
The biggest obstacle the Pirates will have to overcome is the loss of their starting catcher and batting champion Krista Jessup. Jessup finished up her four years at ECU with a .303 batting average, while driving in 120 runs, placing her sixth all-time. Jessup is continuing her softball career with the Chicago Bandits of the National Pro Fast Pitch League.
"During the off-season, Joyce Roodenburg improved her overall game immensely and will see the majority of the action behind the plate," said coach Kee. "Her ability to handle the pitching staff and her calming effect on pitchers is a great trait to have."
Offensively, the Pirates have seen a lot of improvement from the end of last season through the fall. The newcomers have also shown both patience at the plate and some pop in their bat. Erin St. Ledger, who consistently came through time after time last season, thrives under the pressure of having to deliver the clutch hit. From the leadoff hitter to the last player on the bench, Kee believes this team has the most athletic talent of any she can remember.
With a year under her belt Vanessa Moreno will look to increase her offensive production after leading the Pirates with four homeruns and two triples before being named to the C-USA All-Freshman Team.
"Vanessa is a true utility player and an exceptional athlete. She is so competitive in anything she does but most importantly she brings energy and leadership to the field everyday."
"One asset we will have this year that we have not had in recent memory is the ability to give our players the rest they may need during the course of a long season, said Kee. "The depth in talent we added should provide us the chance to keep all of our player fresh, while getting the most out of our kids."
Defensively around the diamond, the Pirates look sharp. Sophomore first baseman Jessica Johnson, who only committed two errors at first base, will provide confidence to the infielders to make the throw.
"Jessica Johnson could be the best defensive first baseman we have ever had here at East Carolina. On numerous occasions, her glove saved our infielders and I know are happy to have her at the receiving end of their throws."
The newcomers could prove to be the difference makers throughout the season. Cristen Aona, Charina Sumner and Kaui Tom all come to ECU from Hawaii where they received numerous accolades. Aona was a first-team all-state first baseman, while Sumner was a second-team all-state outfielder. However, the Pirates feel with Johnson's ability at the first base bag, Aona is better served at third base where she can utilize her strong arm and quick reflexes. Sumner was also a track and field athlete and her speed is expected to pay dividends both along the base paths and in the outfield. While Sumner is not roaming the outfield, she will be seeing action at second base, switching off with St. Ledger. Kaui Tom is a former high school teammate of Sumner and an all-state player that has helped her team compete in a pair of Interscholastic League of Honolulu championships. Tom is expected to platoon at shortstop with Paige Baggett, as they have both been pushing each other to get better all fall.
Two other key additions from California look to play big roles in the continued success and development of ECU Softball. Toni Paisley, a two-time all-city selection will look to give Keli Harrell a breather on the mound, while she will also see action around the field. Late signee Christina Merrida, is a five-tool athlete, who coach Kee would love to see roaming centerfield for the next four years. Merrida also has the speed and hitting ability to be an exceptional lead-off hitter.
"Coach Koz and I are so excited about this years squad," Kee said. "Though we have lots of work to do prior to our game schedule, we believe we'll have them ready. We'll compete each game, fight to the final out, learn from the outcome and keep moving towards our goal."
The Pirates open the season playing in the Carolina Classic on Feb. 9 to play WCWS participant Tennessee. ECU will return home after 13 straight road games to host the Baymount Inn & Suites Pirate Classic, where they are scheduled to face-off against Towson.