Feb. 9, 2012
GREENVILLE, N.C. - Two-time defending Conference USA Tournament champion East Carolina begins the 2012 season by hosting the Pirate Classic. ECU, which is opening at home for the first time since 2009, plays Virginia at 2:00 p.m. Friday before taking on Canisius at approximately 4:00 p.m.
On Saturday, East Carolina faces Canisius at 2:00 p.m. and finishes the day with Drexel around 4:00 p.m. The Pirates wrap up the initial weekend Sunday with Virginia at 12:00 p.m.
This year, ECU returns all eight position starters and 12 letterwinners, but must overcome the loss of All-America pitcher Toni Paisley, No. 2 pitcher Faith Sutton, first baseman/designated player Sissy Jimenez, outfielder and primary pinch runner Taylor Megargel and outfielder Mahrisch Medina.
Leading East Carolina is 16th-year head coach Tracey Kee and 11th-year associate head coach Natalie Kozlowski. The duo has received the last two National Fastpitch Coaches Association Mideast Region Coaching Staff-of-the-Year honors. Kee and Kozlowski guided the Pirates to a 41-22 mark in 2011 and the NCAA Tournament College Park Regional final, the program's second-straight regional final appearance.
On the field, sophomore infielder and Preseason All-Conference USA selection Kristi Oshiro returns after leading the Pirates in hits, walks and runs scored a year ago. She is joined on the preseason all-league squad by senior outfielder Suzanne Riggs and sophomore Jill Jelnick, both Second-Team All-Conference USA honorees in 2011. East Carolina's other senior, Priscilla Velasquez, is also expected to provide leadership.
ECU On Opening Day
Since the Pirates began playing fastpitch softball in 1984, East Carolina has gone 40-15-1 (.723) in opening day action, including a 20-8 (.714) record under Kee and a 13-3 (.813) mark in the last eight years.
On the first day a season ago, the Pirates were in Athens, Ga., for the Red & Black Showcase. ECU defeated Lipscomb 1-0 in the opener before falling to Illinois State 8-0.
Pirates In Home Openers
For the first time since 2009 East Carolina will open the season at home. Overall, the Pirates have a record of 39-12 (.765) during the first day of action at home, going 22-5 (.815) under Kee with the last loss a 1-0 setback to Towson Feb. 23, 2007.
In 2011, the program began the home slate Feb. 16 by downing UNC Wilmington 8-0 in the first game played inside the ECU Softball Stadium.
The Pirates Against The Cavaliers
East Carolina trails Virginia in the all-time series 34-23, but the Pirates have taken four of the last five games, including a 3-0 victory in the most recent contest, Feb. 18, 2011. The programs first met in 1984, during the Pirates' initial season of fastpitch softball, but have played just three times since the start of the 2008 campaign.
During last year's meeting, Paisley limited the Cavaliers to just two hits and fanned eight in the complete-game effort. Oshiro scored a pair of runs and Riggs drove in the game-winning tally with a third-inning single to left field. Velasquez and Jordan Lewis each recorded an RBI during the fifth frame to put the game away.
East Carolina Versus Canisius
The Pirates hold a 4-3 lead in the Golden Griffins series, which began with a single contest in 1985. The teams have split the last four contests, with ECU capturing a 6-2 win in the most recent tilt, Feb. 23, 2001 in Greenville.
ECU Against The Atlantic Coast Conference And Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference
In program history, the Pirates are 86-137 against current members of the Atlantic Coast Conference and 26-4 facing Metro Atlantic Athletic teams such as Canisius.
Pirates Receive National Preseason Recognition
East Carolina received eight votes in the USA Today/NFCA preseason poll. In the final 2011 polls, the Pirates tallied 12 votes in the USA Today/NFCA poll and eight in the ESPN.com/USA Softball poll.
A Tough Road To Travel
Along with East Carolina registering eight votes, many of the team's 2012 opponents are ranked or receiving votes in the preseason. The Pirates are scheduled to play 16 of their 56 regular-season contests (28.6 percent) against squads ranked or receiving votes in the preseason USA Today/NFCA poll. In the preseason ESPN.com/USA Softball poll, ECU plays each of the top three clubs (Arizona State, Alabama and California) once.
In capturing consecutive Conference USA Tournament championships, East Carolina relied on the steady pitching arm of Paisley to shoulder most of the load. Paisley exhausted her eligibility and the primary No. 2 option the last two seasons, Sutton, left the program. The Pirates enter the campaign without a player on the roster who has thrown an inning in college since Velasquez tossed one-and-two-thirds Feb. 8, 2009, in her only career appearance.
... Leading To A Circle Of New Faces ...
Freshmen Sarah Christian, Emma Mendoker and Courtney Smith are expected to handle the pitching duties this season. Christian was named the North Carolina 3A-East Pitcher-of-the-Year as a senior and earned most valuable player honors at the state championship after helping D.H. Conley claim its first title. Mendoker was tabbed as the ESPN RISE 2010-11 Gatorade Massachusetts Softball Player-of-the-Year after going 23-2 with a
0.17 earned run average and 300 strikeouts. Smith, following her senior year in northern California, was selected as the Tri-County Co-League Most Valuable Player and Appeal-Democrat All-Area Player-of-the-Year for posting a 0.92 earned run average and conference-best 166 strikeouts.
Welcoming Back Plenty Of Bats
While the Pirates return no pitching from the last two seasons, East Carolina does welcome back 88.6 percent of its hits, 89.8 percent of the team's runs scored, 90.8 percent of runs batted in and all of its home runs from the 2011 campaign.