2011 Softball Outlook Part I
Feb. 8, 2011
GREENVILLE, N.C. - A new era for the East Carolina softball program is just three days away. Gone are seven seniors who guided a Conference USA championship-winning journey in 2010. Also gone is the field the Pirates played on for their first 26 years. Replacing those pieces are 10 freshmen and the new ECU Softball Stadium.
A lot of changes are going to occur in the upcoming season, but the two coaches who led the Pirates to their first C-USA regular season and tournament titles a year ago return.
Directing East Carolina is two-time reigning Conference USA Coach-of-the-Year Tracey Kee, who is in her 25th season with the program. She spent four years (1987-90) as a standout player and six (1991-96) as an assistant coach before taking over the helm. A win over UTEP April 17, 2010, allowed Kee to reach the 600-victory plateau and she enters 2011 with 618 wins to her credit.
Kee will be aided in the dugout again by associate head coach Natalie Kozlowski, returning for her 11th season with the program. Last season, Kee and Kozlowski were selected as the National Fastpitch Coaches Association Mideast Region Coaching Staff-of-the-Year.
A look at the East Carolina record book shows Kozlowski's impact on the program as the all-time offensive lists are dominated by her squads. She is responsible for teams that stand first or second in six of 11 offensive categories, including home runs, walks, runs batted in and hits. The offense played a vital role during the Pirates' 2010 Conference USA championship season, as the team led the league in hit by pitches and sacrifice bunts while standing second in hits and third in runs scored.
Joining Kee and Kozlowski in a coaching role this season is graduate assistant Cristen Aona, who wrapped up her playing career with the Pirates last spring. Aona was one of the steadiest and most reliable East Carolina players during her tenure. A four-year starter, she appeared in 240 games while making 238 starts, 235 at third base. She ended her career with 160 hits, 29 doubles and 14 home runs, good for 10th on the program's all-time long ball list. As an assistant, Aona helps both the infield and outfield groups.
The trio of coaches will be breaking in 10 freshmen to help a reload a team that returns just 23.7 percent of its runs scored, 26.2 percent of its hits and 35.5 percent of its runs batted in from the 2010 campaign. On the other hand, 100 percent of the pitching staff's victories return as does 99.6 percent of the strikeouts and 99.0 percent of the innings pitched. The talented duo of Toni Paisley and Faith Sutton will be counted on to lead this year's Pirates.
A year ago, Paisley led C-USA in seven categories: victories (31), earned run average (1.09), strikeouts (East Carolina single-season record 356), batters struck out looking (96), innings pitched (277.0), appearances (48) and games started (39). She enters her final campaign ranked second in league history in career strikeouts (894) and fourth in wins (86).
Joining Paisley in the pitching duties is Sutton, a junior, who came on strong at the end of the 2010 campaign. A year ago, Sutton pitched 133.0 innings while making 28 appearances, including 23 starts. She compiled a 13-7 record, a 2.16 earned run average and threw 14 complete games, nine of which were solo shutouts. During the Greenville native's final four starts of the season, she did not allow a run and surrendered only 10 hits over the 27 innings pitched. Included in that string was the shutout win in game two at Memphis, the victory that clinched ECU's first Conference USA regular-season title.
Fellow Hawaiian Lee was a four-year letterwinner who helped Mililani High School finish in the top three of the Hawai'i Division I state softball championship all four years. As a senior, she was a first-team all-state selection at catcher after being a Honolulu Advertiser First Team All-State honoree following her junior season.
Local North Pitt High School standout Wynne started all four years for the Panthers and was a four-time First-Team All-Eastern Plains and Daily Reflector All-County selection. She capped her career in 2010 by being named the Eastern Plains Conference Player-of-the-Year as well as the North Carolina Softball Coaches Association (NCSCA) 2A East Player-of-the-Year.
Tomorrow, Part II of the softball preview will take a look at this year's infield and outfield.