Sophomore infielder Kristi Oshiro was a Preseason All-Conference USA selection and led the Pirates in hits a year ago.
Feb. 8, 2012
GREENVILLE, N.C. - Only two days remain before the East Carolina softball team opens the 2012 season Friday against Virginia at 2:00 p.m. inside the ECU Softball Stadium. The team will host the Pirate Classic through Sunday.
Yesterday, Part I of the softball preview looked at the coaching staff, pitchers and catchers. Today, Part II examines this season's infield and outfield groups.
Following a period of transition in 2011 that featured three freshman starters, the unit returns intact and should thrive in year two.
Expected to hold down the job at third base again this season is sophomore Alex Fieldhouse, who started 49 games there a year ago. The Garden Grove, Calif., native was a Conference USA All-Tournament Team honoree after scoring the game-winning run in the championship game versus Tulsa and hitting a contest-deciding home run against Houston in the 1-0 semifinal triumph. She ended her rookie campaign ranked second on the team in sacrifice bunts (12/fourth most in C-USA), third in home runs (three) and assists (47) and fourth in doubles (seven).
Pushing Fieldhouse for playing time at third are juniors Cicely Lopez and Kai Clark, with Clark experiencing action at third when not serving as the catcher. Lopez started 13 games at the hot corner in 2011 and was very successful in a critical role for the Pirates, laying down five sacrifice bunts as a pinch hitter. She advanced base runners 40.5 percent of the time and reached base 33.3 percent of the time when leading off an inning. The native of Anaheim, Calif., could also register playing time at all three outfield positions, or at first or second base.
One of the back-up options for Kaluhiokalani-Glackin at shortstop is a North Carolina product in freshman Alexa Cannon, who graduated from Fuquay-Varina High School. Cannon earned All-Tri-9 Conference honors every season while guiding the Bengals to a cumulative record of 87-27 and consecutive trips to the North Carolina High School Athletic Association (NCHSAA) 4A State Tournament's final four as a junior and sophomore. She capped her career earning the NCHSAA 4A Player-of-the-Year after recording the highest single-season batting average (.506) and home run (six) totals in the 15-year history of the school.
Perhaps the most valuable piece of East Carolina's offense is sophomore Kristi Oshiro, who returns for her second year starting at second base and can also play shortstop if necessary. Oshiro was a Preseason All-Conference USA selection after earning C-USA All-Freshman Team honors a year ago. She paced the squad in batting average (.314), hits (58), walks (40), runs scored (37) and on-base percentage (.436) while tying for the top spot in doubles (eight) during her initial campaign. The Mililani, Hawai'i, native became the first Pirate player to collect more than 35 hits, walks and runs during a season since Kate Manuse (77 H/55 BB/40 R) in 2005. Also a standout defensively, Oshiro posted a .990 fielding percentage, good for ninth among all Conference USA players, and committed just two errors while contributing a team-best 82 assists.
For the second-straight season, the most experienced position on the infield will be at first base, where senior Priscilla Velasquez will battle with Fieldhouse, Lopez, Clark and sophomore Jordan Lewis. Velasquez was named the Most Valuable Player of the Conference USA Tournament after driving in seven runs during the three contests, including all four in the victory over Tulsa in the title game with a three-run home run and bases-loaded walk. A year ago, during her 29 starts as a first baseman, the Pirates posted a 21-8 record. Velasquez, from La Quinta, Calif., collected a career-high 22 hits and 20 runs batted in last season while playing in a personal-best 51 games.
As with the infield, a year of transition and freshmen seeing extensive playing time in 2011 leads to this season's unit being deep and experienced.
The veteran among the group is senior Suzanne Riggs, who is the probable starter in left field and joined Oshiro on the preseason all-league team. The Greenville product from D.H. Conley High School had a breakout season in 2011 after returning to full health and earning a spot in the everyday starting lineup. She was named Second Team All-Conference USA after leading the Pirates, or tying for the top spot, in runs batted in (35), doubles (eight), home runs (four), total bases (74) and slugging percentage (.438). Riggs also earned the first two C-USA Hitter-of-the-Week honors of her career following strong league series against Southern Miss and UAB.
Sophomore Jasmine Robbins came on strong toward the end of her rookie year, earning Conference USA All-Freshman Team honors after pacing the Pirates during league games with a .300 batting average and .462 on-base percentage. She started 45 games in center field and posted the team's second-best average (.300) and highest on-base percentage (.430) during the second half of the campaign. Another North Carolina native, from Indian Trail, Robbins hit the first home run for the Pirates inside the ECU Softball Stadium with a second-inning solo shot against St. John's on Feb. 18.
Completing the outfield set are sophomores Lewis and Jill Jelnick, both C-USA All-Freshman and All-Tournament Team honorees last season. Both are likely to experience time in the outfield, as well as at designated player and on the infield. While Lewis is in the mix at first base, Jelnick is a strong reserve to Oshiro at second base.
Lewis earned a place on the league's all-tournament squad after collecting a team second-best three hits and driving in the game-winning run against Memphis in the opening round with a two-run double in the fifth inning. She continued the hot hitting into the NCAA Tournament, belting a three-run home run to left center in the first inning of ECU's College Park Regional opener versus Maryland, propelling the team to a 5-1 victory. For the year, the Fremont, Calif., product recorded a team second-best six multi-RBI contests and third-best 12 multiple-hit games.
Jelnick earned Second-Team All-Conference USA honors as a utility player, becoming one of just four C-USA freshmen to earn all-league honors in 2011. She was also named to the Preseason All-Conference USA Team as the designated player. Like Robbins, Jelnick surged in the second half of the campaign and was the Pirates' top hitter over the final 31 contests, posting a .304 average to go along with 24 hits, 14 walks, 13 runs scored and eight driven in. A native of Aliso Viejo, Calif., Jelnick ended the year leading the squad with three triples and posted the third-best batting average at .295.