IRVING, Texas – The East Carolina softball team, regular season champion of Conference USA, will enter this week’s league tournament as the No. 1 seed after finishing the regular season with a 39-16 overall record and a 16-5 mark in league games. The Pirates will play No. 8 seed Southern Miss at 5:30 p.m. ET Thursday at the Cougar Softball Stadium in Houston, Texas.
Last weekend, East Carolina claimed its first C-USA regular season championship with a sweep of Memphis. It was the first regular season title for the Pirate program since winning three straight in the Big South from 1997-99. ECU also became the first team in Conference USA history to sweep three league series in the same season without allowing a run. UCF, Southern Miss and Memphis all failed to score against the Pirate pitching staff.
Leading the way in the circle this season is six-time C-USA Pitcher-of-the-Week Toni Paisley. She has a 27-9 record and 1.05 earned run average while leading the NCAA in shutouts with 19. Paisley has also struck out 320 batters, just 18 shy of the ECU single-season record. She finished league play with a 0.52 ERA, surrendering only eight earned runs in 107.2 innings pitched.
Sophomore Faith Sutton has also thrown well, going 12-7 with a 2.26 earned run average. In her past three starts, all shutouts, she has given up just eight hits and struck out 15 batters. In C-USA action, Sutton compiled a 2.87 earned run average and fanned 26 batters.
On offense, seniors Marina Gusman-Brown and Charina Sumner lead the way. Gusman-Brown has team-best marks in batting average (.331), home runs (12), runs batted in (36), slugging percentage (.656) and stolen bases (27). Sumner paces the Pirates in hits (57), doubles (10), triples (5) and runs scored (33).
As a team, East Carolina leads the country with a .983 fielding percentage. The Pirates have committed just 24 errors in 55 games. For the past three seasons, ECU has not finished lower than third nationally in fielding percentage (second in 2007, .977; third in 2008, .980; third in 2009, .978).
Last season at the league tournament in El Paso, Texas, the second-seeded Pirates fell in the first round to host UTEP 4-3 in 13 innings. In that contest, the longest in C-USA Tournament history, Chelsea Troupe, the league's freshman-of-the-year, hit her second home run of the game with two outs in the top of the 13th to give UTEP the victory. East Carolina had scored three unearned runs with two outs in the bottom of the seventh to force extra innings.
Conference USA Thursday First-Round Tournament Schedule
Game 1 - No. 2 Tulsa vs. No. 7 Memphis 12:00 p.m.
Game 2 - No. 3 UCF vs. No. 6 UTEP 2:30 p.m.
Game 3 - No. 1 East Carolina vs. No. 8 Southern Miss 5:30 p.m.
Game 4 - No. 4 UAB vs. No. 5 Houston 8:00 p.m.
All Times Eastern