GREENSBORO, N.C. - The East Carolina softball team put on another offensive display, hitting four home runs in two games at UNC Greensboro to claim 4-1 and 6-3 victories. Seniors Charina Sumner, Kaui Tom, Vanessa Moreno and Marina Gusman-Brown each hit a homer off Spartan pitchers. Junior Toni Paisley, the Conference USA Co-Pitcher-of-the-Week, picked up both wins for the Pirates (17-12).
The ECU offense has found its groove in the past seven games, hitting 10 long balls and scoring 57 runs. This season, the Pirates are 5-0 against in-state opponents, outscoring them 44-6.
Paisley earned her sixth-straight victory in the opener, limiting UNCG to a pair of hits and one run. She also struck out 12. It was the third time in her past five starts she reached double digit whiffs. The win put her in sole possession of seventh on the C-USA all-time list as she has 66 in her career. Cory Mattson (7-8) took the loss for the Spartans (13-17). She allowed just three hits, but two were home runs and the third was an RBI double. She fanned five and walked four in the contest.
Sophomore Faith Sutton got the start in the second game, going three innings and giving up four hits and two runs. She also struck out three. Paisley went the final four innings to pick up her second win of the day and improve to 12-7. She allowed three hits and a run while striking out seven in the relief effort. Amber Harrell (4-8) also did not make it out of the fourth inning for UNCG, throwing three-and-two-thirds of an inning while allowing four hits, four walks and four runs. Raeanne Hanks and Mattson came in to go the final three-and-a-third frames.
Neither team mounted a scoring threat in game one until the top of the third, when the Pirates put a two-out rally together to take a 2-0 lead. With two down, senior Christina Merrida reached when a wild pitch on a strikeout allowed her to be safe at first base. Sumner fell behind 0-2 in the count, but hit the next pitch over the wall in left center for the 2-0 lead. It was the first hit of the game for either squad and Sumner's first long ball since the 2008 season. Freshman Kai Clark reached on an error by the second baseman and went to second on a wild pitch, but a strikeout ended the inning.
East Carolina put together another two-out threat in the top of the fourth via a walk, error and a second free pass that loaded the bases. Merrida nearly beat out her grounder to the second baseman, but was thrown out to end the threat.
UNCG recorded its first hit of the contest in the bottom of the fourth as Jordan Jewett doubled to left center with one out. Paisley recovered to retire Alex Emeterio on a pop-out and Emily Akiyama on a strikeout to leave Jewett on second base.
The Spartans cut the deficit down to one in the bottom of the fifth as Kaitlin Merkt led off with her third home run of the season. Paisley sent down the next three batters in order.
The Pirates answered immediately in the top of the sixth, scoring twice to push the lead to 4-1. Tom led off with a home run deep over the wall in left center. It was her second homer in as many games and extended her hitting streak to six games. After a double play, senior Cristen Aona reached on an error by the shortstop. Gusman-Brown then doubled to left field, driving in Aona and making it a three-run advantage for the Pirates.
In the top of the seventh, ECU put two runners on as Clark reached on an error after the first baseman dropped the throw from the shortstop and Tom walked on four pitches. Sophomore Suzanne Riggs hit a sharp grounder to the second baseman, who knocked the ball down and recovered in time to retire Riggs and end the inning.
Paisley sent down the Spartans in order in the seventh to preserve the victory.
In game two, UNCG jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second inning as Eileen Horsmon hit her third home run of the season.
East Carolina again had the answer, scoring with two outs in the top of the third to tie the game at 1-1. Gusman-Brown hit a two-out double and stole third base. Merrida then sent a single up the middle, just out of reach of the diving shortstop to drive in Gusman-Brown.
The Pirates took the lead they would not relinquish in the top of the fourth, scoring three times to go ahead 4-1. It was the first game this season ECU has won when the opponent scores first. Sumner led off with a walk. Clark laid down a sacrifice bunt, moving Sumner to second. Sophomore Priscilla Velasquez then drew another free pass before Tom drove in Sumner with a double to right center. The hit extended Tom's hitting streak to a career-long seven games.
Aona then sent a short pop-up into left field that scored Velasquez, but Tom was thrown out at third trying to advance on the play. With the two outs, junior Sissy Jimenez doubled to left center, driving in Aona and making it a 4-1 Pirate lead. The hit forced a pitching change as UNCG brought in Hanks to close out the inning. Moreno singled off Hanks' glove, putting runners on first and second with two down. A Gusman-Brown walk loaded the bases for pinch hitter Nicole Jordan, who struck out swinging to end the threat.
UNCG responded in the bottom of the frame with a run to make the score 4-2 in favor of the Pirates. Emeterio and Merkt hit back-to-back singles to start the inning. Following a walk to Horsmon to load the bases with no outs, Paisley came in for Sutton. Paisley struck out the first two batters she faced before Whitney Sirois singled through the left side, driving in Emeterio. Pinch hitter Kristen Gabel then struck out to end the threat without any further damage.
In the top of the fifth, ECU had a chance to add to the lead but could not. Sumner led off with a single and Clark followed with a bunt. Clark beat out the throw from the third baseman for a single, but the ball got away from the first baseman and went into right field, allowing Sumner to move to third. Clark stole second before a pair of strikeouts and groundout ended the threat.
The Pirates tacked on two more runs in the sixth on a pair of solo home runs. Moreno and Gusman-Brown went back-to-back with one out in the inning, putting East Carolina ahead 6-2.
Merkt led off the bottom of the frame with her second home run of the day to cut the Pirate lead down to three runs at 6-3.
In the bottom of the seventh, Paisley allowed a two-out infield single, but that was it as she closed out the win.
The Pirates complete this week's action with a three-game series at league-leading UCF (22-12, 7-1 C-USA). East Carolina is in second place in C-USA. The teams play a doubleheader Good Friday beginning at 3:00 p.m. and the finale at 12:00 p.m. Saturday.