IRVING, Texas - East Carolina senior Toni Paisley has been named the Preseason Conference USA Pitcher-of-the-Year, according to a release by the league Wednesday afternoon. It is the second-straight year she has earned the league's top preseason pitching honor.
As a team, the Pirates were picked to finish second in C-USA, trailing Houston in the preseason poll by just seven points. UH and ECU each picked up three first-place votes to lead the way while the top four teams were separated by only nine points.
Paisley has turned into one of the most decorated athletes in East Carolina program history. A year ago, she was named to the Louisville Slugger/NFCA Division I All-America Third Team, becoming the Pirates' third All-America selection. She also repeated as a Louisville Slugger/NFCA Division I All-Region Team member, Conference USA Pitcher-of-the-Year and First-Team All-C-USA selection.
After going 3-0 and striking out 20 while leading the Pirates to their first league tournament title, Paisley was named Most Valuable Player of the Conference USA Tournament. During the season, she was selected as the league's pitcher-of-the-week seven times, tying her own mark from the 2009 season and Southern Miss' Courtney Blades (2000) for the most-ever C-USA Pitcher-of-the-Week honors in a single season.
For the campaign, the Lakewood, Calif., native recorded 22 solo shutouts - the second-highest total in the nation. Paisley finished the year ranked fourth in the NCAA in earned run average (1.09), 10th in strikeouts (East Carolina single-season record 356), 11th in hits allowed per seven innings (3.89), 14th in victories and 30th in strikeouts per seven innings (9.00).
The Pirates placed second in the preseason balloting despite the graduation of six starters from last season's league-title squad. UAB also collected 63 points, but was edged by ECU's three first-place votes to its two. Paisley and fellow senior Sissy Jimenez, who collected 34 hits and drove in 22 runs a year ago as ECU's primary first baseman, look to guide a young team featuring 10 freshmen. Juniors Priscilla Velasquez and Faith Sutton are the Pirates' only other returning starters from a year ago.
UTEP senior utility player Camilla Carrera received the league's other top honor as the Preseason Conference USA Player-of-the-Year. Houston and UAB had the most preseason selections with three each.
East Carolina, which received national attention this week by garnering votes in both the USA Today/NFCA and ESPN.com/USA Softball preseason polls, begins the 2011 season two weeks from Friday with the Red & Black Showcase in Athens, Ga., from Feb. 11-13.
Preseason All-Conference USA Honors
Camilla Carrera, UTEP
Toni Paisley, East Carolina
Preseason All-Conference Team
P - Toni Paisley, East Carolina
P - Donna Bourgeois, Houston
P - Lauren Webster, UAB
C - Mandy Lowman, UAB
IF - Samantha Cobb, Tulsa
IF - Natalie Land, UCF
IF - Kayla Orr, UAB
IF - Jazmine Valle, Marshall
IF - Tiffany Lane, UCF
OF - Caitlin Everett, Tulsa
OF - Ashleigh Jones, Houston
OF - Lelani Bernardino, Memphis
OF - Leslie LeJune, Southern Miss
DH - Reina Gaber, Houston
UT - Camilla Carrera, UTEP
Preseason All-Conference USA Poll
1. Houston (3) 70
2. East Carolina (3) 63
3. UAB (2) 63
4. Tulsa (1) 61
5. UCF 48
6. Southern Miss 31
7. Memphis 29
8. UTEP 23
9. Marshall 17