2012 Schedule Set For Softball
Oct. 18, 2011
GREENVILLE, N.C. - With back-to-back Conference USA Tournament championships and NCAA Tournament regional final appearances in hand, the East Carolina softball team has put together perhaps the most challenging schedule in program history for the 2012 season. Twenty-four home games inside the ECU Softball Stadium, contests against 14 programs that made last season's NCAA Tournament and a trip west to California and Arizona highlight the slate, announced Tuesday by head coach Tracey Kee.
In all, the Pirates face seven teams that won their conference regular season or tournament titles, eight squads that ended 2011 ranked or receiving votes in the USA Today/National Fastpitch Coaches Association and ESPN.com/USA Softball final polls and four that finished in the top 10. ECU travels to Alabama and Arizona State, which were two of the final four teams playing at the Women's College World Series (WCWS) with the Sun Devils taking home the national championship. Two additional programs on the slate, California and Stanford, participated in last spring's NCAA Tournament Super Regional round.
"I know this schedule is by far one of the toughest we have ever set out to play," Kee said. "When you are given an opportunity to play the premiere Division I softball programs in your non-conference schedule, though, the chance is hard to turn down."
ECU opens the 2012 campaign Friday, Feb. 10 hosting the Pirate Classic. It will be the first time East Carolina has opened the season at home since 2009. The Pirates welcome Virginia, Canisius and Drexel to Greenville for the event. ECU takes on Virginia at 2:00 p.m. Friday and Canisius at approximately 4:00 p.m. before facing Canisius and Drexel at 2:00 and 4:00 p.m. Saturday and wrapping up the weekend with a noon contest against the Cavaliers Sunday.
East Carolina continues home action the following weekend with the Pirate Clash. NCAA Tournament participants Louisville and Fordham, Colonial Athletic Association regular season champion Hofstra and UNC Greensboro complete the tournament field. ECU takes on each program once from Friday to Sunday, starting with the Cardinals at 1:00 p.m. Friday, Feb. 17.
Following a Feb. 20 clash with the Pride, the Pirates embark on a month-long road swing that will take them from Tuscaloosa, Ala., all the way to Fullerton, Calif. The first destination is Tuscaloosa and the University of Alabama from Feb. 24-26. East Carolina faces SIU Edwardsville twice, the host Crimson Tide twice and Summit League Tournament champion and NCAA Tournament participant North Dakota State once while at the tournament.
The next stop for the Pirates is Fullerton, Calif., March 3-4 for the DeMarini Invitational. In one of the country's most challenging early-season tournaments, East Carolina faces California, Northwestern, Indiana and Stanford. The Bears and Cardinal both ended last season ranked in the top 10 while the Hoosiers finished second in the Big 10 Conference and played in the NCAA Tournament. The Pirates complete the California trip with a March 6 contest versus Cal State Fullerton.
Starting to head back toward the east coast, ECU makes its second-straight visit to Arizona State University, appearing in the Diamond Devil Invitational (March 9-11). While in Tempe, the Pirates are scheduled to take on Pacific, the WCWS champion Sun Devils, Creighton, New Mexico State and Valparaiso.
Before beginning C-USA action, East Carolina travels to Chapel Hill to take on North Carolina March 13 at 5:00 p.m. It is the first meeting between the two since 2009.
"This young pitching staff will be challenged early and often," Kee said. "However, I feel we have the other components in place with leadership and experience to help guide them through."
Conference USA play opens March 17, when East Carolina travels to Tulsa for the three-game series in a rematch of last year's league championship game. ECU finally returns to home action March 24-25 with a trio of C-USA games against UTEP.
The Pirates also welcome Conference USA foes UAB (April 6-7), Southern Miss (April 21-22) and Marshall (March 28-29) to Greenville, leaving road league matchups at UCF (March 31-April 1), Houston (April 14-15) and Memphis (May 5-6).
In addition to the clash with the Tar Heels, other in-state rivals on the midweek schedule include doubleheaders at UNC Wilmington (March 28) and N.C. State (April 4). The Pirates play their final nonconference game of the season April 18, hosting Longwood for a doubleheader.
This year's Conference USA Tournament, which will be held in Birmingham, Ala., begins May 10 and runs through the 12. The winner of the event receives the league's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
"One thing I've learned in all my years of coaching is that kids have an uncanny ability to rise to the challenge when given the opportunity," Kee said. "Don't ever underestimate a Pirate as he or she does not know how to, and will never, quit."