May 8, 2012
GREENVILLE, N.C. - East Carolina will play for its third-straight Conference USA Championship title starting Thursday with a 5:30 p.m. ET contest against Marshall (34-20). The Pirates (25-27) enter the event as the sixth seed after posting an 11-12 record in C-USA action. The Thundering Herd, the three seed, finished the campaign 15-9 in league play.
Last weekend at Memphis, the Pirates won 5-4 and 4-3 in eight innings Saturday before losing 5-3 Sunday. In game one, ECU trailed 4-1 heading into the sixth, but scored four times in the frame to earn the victory. The second contest had junior Kai Clark hit a game-tying home run to lead off the seventh and senior Suzanne Riggs plate the deciding score in the eighth. Sunday, Memphis led 5-0 going to the seventh. ECU scored three times and put the tying run at the plate, but could not even the game.
The Pirates Against The Thundering Herd
The all-time series between the two programs is deadlocked at 13-13. The teams first met for a single game Feb. 20, 1998, at the Triangle Classic in Raleigh, N.C. The Thundering Herd won that meeting 2-0 and claimed six of the first nine matchups. The Pirates have been able to even the series with recent success, winning eight of the last 12 tilts. In the only C-USA postseason clash between the two, the Pirates registered a 7-2 win in the first round at Houston in 2008.
The Last Meeting
April 29, 2012
Two weeks ago in Greenville, ECU suffered an 8-0 setback in the series opener, but bounced back to claim 3-2 and 3-0 victories in the next two games. During the opener, the Thundering Herd's Andi Williamson limited the Pirates to just one hit, a seventh-inning single. In the second contest, East Carolina sophomore Jasmine Robbins hit a two-run double in the bottom of the first and classmate Kristi Oshiro added an RBI single in the second as the Pirates held on for the win. Freshman pitcher Sarah Christian recorded the win Saturday and tossed the first Conference USA shutout of her career Sunday in the finale. A two-run single by Clark in the fourth inning and a run-scoring double by Riggs in the fifth provided the ECU offense.
Pirates Go For Third-Straight C-USA Championship Title
East Carolina will open its title defense Thursday and is going for its third consecutive Conference USA Championship crown. The Pirates would become just the second C-USA program to win three-straight titles, joining DePaul, which won four consecutive from 2002-05.
It would also be the first time ECU softball has won three-straight tournament titles in any conference since the fast-pitch program began in 1984. The Pirates took three consecutive regular season Big South titles from 1997-99.
Six Straight And Counting In Tournament Play
Thursday against Marshall, East Carolina will be looking to tie the Conference USA Championship record with a seventh-straight victory in the event. The Pirates have won the last two titles to push their winning streak to six. The run is the second-longest by a C-USA squad in postseason play, trailing only DePaul's seven consecutive victories during the 2004-05 tournaments. The Blue Demons also reeled off six-straight wins in the 2002-03 events.
Peaking At The Right Time
East Carolina opened the season with its best record since 2008 at 6-3 following a 6-5 10-inning win over SIU Edwardsville on Feb. 24. The Pirates then dropped 22 of their next 32 games, including five to teams ranked within the top 12. ECU has righted the ship recently with victories in nine of its last 11 contests. It is the team's most successful stretch since taking 10 of 11 from Feb. 19-March 5, 2011.
The Best Batting Average Since Joining C-USA
East Carolina finished the Conference USA season with a .267 team batting average, the highest in program history, topping .266 marks in 2008 and 2009. A year ago, the Pirates hit .205 in league play and batted .231 during the C-USA season in 2010. The team's top five batting averages in Conference USA:
||C-USA Batting Average
And The Most Runs Since 2007
In addition to turning in the best league batting average in program history, the Pirates also pushed across the most runs during C-USA play since 2007. This year's club scored 89 runs in 23 games, an average of 3.9 per contest. The 2007 squad tallied 92 runs in 23 tilts, an average of 4.0 a matchup.
Lots Of Early Scoring
Thursday against Marshall, East Carolina will play its first neutral site game since a 5-3 victory over Valparaiso on March 11 in Tempe, Ariz. In neutral contests this season, ECU has outscored the opponent 8-2 in the opening inning, but been outscored 9-2 during the second frame. The Pirates are 3-2 when scoring first in neutral tilts, but just 1-5 when the foe crosses home with the initial run.
A Hot Bat Behind The Dish
ECU starting catcher Clark has made the most of the last portion of her junior campaign. The Kapolei, Hawai'i, product has hit a team-best .394 (13-for-33) since April 1 and a squad-high .583 (seven-for-12) in the last four games. In the last four contests, Clark also paces the Pirates with a .917 slugging percentage, four runs scored and four driven in.
Clark finished the Conference USA season with a .314 batting average, 16 hits and eight runs batted in. Entering this year, she owned a career .176 average, 19 hits and 14 RBI in league action.
Heating Up Toward The End, Again
Robbins ended last season on a hot streak, hitting a team second-best .375 in the 15 games prior to the NCAA Tournament. She is at it again this year. Since April 1, Robbins is tied for the squad lead with 10 runs batted in, paces the group with five doubles, stands second with 15 hits and checks in third with a .451 slugging percentage.
Saving Her Best For Last
The main power source for East Carolina's offense this season has been Riggs, who leads the team with a .331 batting average, .573 slugging percentage (8th in C-USA), .452 on-base percentage (5th in C-USA), eight home runs (T-9th in C-USA), 33 runs batted in and 27 walks (2nd in C-USA).
In only C-USA action, Riggs stands third in the league in on-base percentage (.493), tied for fourth in walks (14), fifth in batting average (.379), seventh in slugging percentage (.603) and tied for ninth in runs batted in (18).
The Career-Record Watch Is On
With Riggs' two walks at Memphis, she upped her career total to 69, good for 10th on the program's top-10 list. Kate Manuse (2002-05) is the leader with 136 free passes while Dana Hulings (1994-97) and Lisa Corprew (1991-94) are tied for eighth with 70.
Riggs' 12 career home runs are also just two shy of the program's top-10 list. ECU Hall of Fame member Isonette Polonius (1997-99) holds the record with 42.
Never Say Never
Last Saturday at Memphis, East Carolina trailed 4-1 heading into the sixth inning of the opener, but scored four times with two outs in the frame to earn a 5-4 victory. The second contest had ECU down 3-1 going into the sixth and 3-2 in the seventh before a solo home run by Clark to lead off the seventh knotted the score at 3-3. Riggs plated the deciding score in the eighth for a 4-3 triumph. The Pirates nearly made it three comeback wins as they trailed 5-0 going to the seventh Sunday. The team scored three times and sent the tying run to the plate, but fell 5-3.
In all, ECU has won four games this year when trailing after the fifth inning and two when down after six. During the 2009-11 seasons combined, the Pirates were just 1-40 when trailing after five frames and 3-46 when down after six.
Among The Nation's Best
East Carolina stands fourth in C-USA with 85 stolen bases. With the latest set of NCAA statistics, through May 6 games, the Pirates checked in among the top 25 nationally. An average of 1.63 stolen bases per contest had ECU 24th in the country.