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ECU softball hopes to have perfect mix

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East Carolina's Erin Poepping throws a pitch during their game against N.C. State on April 25, 2018. (Molly Mathis/The Daily Reflector)

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By Nathan Summers
The Daily Reflector

Friday, February 8, 2019

Coaches spend much of their lives searching for the perfect blend of talent, youth and experience, and very often they never find it.

Time will tell if the East Carolina softball team and fifth-year head coach Courtney Oliver have done just that — or whether that mix can be the magic to dispel last season’s results of a few winning streaks matched by some much longer losing ones. An ECU club that finished 23-32 in 2018 brings back a big share of its roster into the new season, which begins today with multiple games scheduled in the Spartanburg (S.C.) Classic.

“We don’t really talk about wins and losses,” Oliver said. “We focus on what we can do better day to day, and this year we don’t have any outside influences affecting how we’re playing, so this team’s very locked in and it’s going to be fun to watch this team play this year.”

Oliver did not hesitate to say last year’s rookies will be as important as ever now. In fact, she said every freshman that played last year is projected to be back in the lineup beginning today.

Perhaps none of the sophomores will be more visible than the pitching tandem of Erin Poepping and Whitney Sanford, who are set to once again share much of the workload in the circle for the Pirates, who finished 8-13 in American Athletic Conference play.

Poepping became the Pirates’ mainstay arm last season, being selected to the American all-rookie team after leading ECU in ERA (3.26), wins (13), complete games (9) and strikeouts (95).

Also back for her second season after a big debut is Tate McClellan, who was second on the team with a .278 average and 10 home runs to go with a team-high 34 RBIs and 12 doubles.

Seeking their first winning season since 2014, the Pirates bolstered the roster with addition of Campbell transfer Rachel McCollum, who last season for the Camels ranked seventh nationally with her 143 total bases, eighth with 19 home runs and 15th with 18 doubles.

“We’re pretty much bringing back every person that was successful last year,” Oliver said, adding that McCollum is projected to fill a middle-of-the-order spot following the graduation of mainstay run-producer Meredith Burroughs. “The top leaders in our offensive categories are all back.”

After facing Youngstown State and Miami Ohio today, the Pirates square off with Towson on Saturday and Miami (Ohio) and tourney host SC Upstate on Sunday.

Then it’s back home for 16 straight for ECU, a key time to gain some momentum and establish the consistency that was often missing last year on a team that enjoyed winning streaks as long as six games but losing skids as long as 12.

Oliver said the AAC is tougher than even some of the Power Five leagues. That makes it even tougher to make progress, though the coach said she feels the Pirates have done that each season since leaving Conference USA for the American.

“The thing I’m most impressed with is our chemistry,” Oliver said. “They have great attitudes and they have put in the extra work to be consistent. Last year, we were starting quite a few freshmen. I think the consistency with winning, that might be a direct correlation (with the amount of experience).”

Contact Nathan Summers at nsummers@reflector.com, 252-329-9595 and follow @NateSumm99 on Twitter.

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