The East Carolina softball team took a giant step closer to securing a spot in the conference tournament as it routed UTEP 16-2 in six innings Sunday afternoon at the Helen of Troy Softball Complex in El Paso, Texas. The Pirates improve to 34-16 on the season and 10-7 in conference play while the Miners drop to 27-18 and 6-10 in the conference. ECU leads Tulsa for second place in the conference race by one game with both teams having six conference games left to contest. The Pirates do however hold the tiebreaker over the Golden Hurricane by virtue of a 2-1 series win earlier this season in Greenville. The top six squads in the conference standing qualify for the tournament.
ECU pounded out a season-high 17 hits in the victory, with Charina Sumner and Beth Nolan each recording three on the day. Eight of the nine starters posted at least one hit. Jessica Johnson added her team-leading 13th and 14th home runs to help the Pirates' offensive effort. The 16 runs mark the most-ever by ECU in a Conference USA game, the previous mark being 14 against St. Louis on April 25, 2004. The Pirates forced UTEP to use its entire pitching staff in the game.
The first two innings of the contest went by without much offense, as the two teams managed one hit in each frame. ECU would strike first in the third. Kaui Tom led off the inning with a double. After Johnson was intentionally walked, Erin St. Ledger also walked to load the bases. Beth Nolan came through for the Pirates in the next at-bat, as her single to left field scored Tom. After a slew of defensive changes, including pitchers, Vanessa Moreno made the score 2-0 as she hit a fly to right field that was deep enough to score Johnson. With Nolan at first and St. Ledger at third, Joyce Roodenburg belted a double to left center that scored St. Ledger, pushing the ECU advantage to 3-0. The Pirates were not done as the next batter, Cristen Aona, deposited a single into right field, scoring both Nolan and Roodenburg to make the ECU lead 5-0.
Staci Townsend would pull the Miners with 5-2, as her double in the bottom of the third scored Simone Holland and Amber Bennett. The Pirates would add two runs of their own in the top of the fifth on RBI singles by Roodenburg and Christina Merrida.
The top of the sixth essentially ended the game, as ECU plated nine runs in the inning. With one out, Johnson hit her first of two home runs in the inning, giving the Pirates an 8-2 lead. After ECU loaded the bases, Sarah Bibee doubled to left center, making the score 10-2. A wild pitch, an error and a single by Sumner gave the Pirates a 13-2 advantage before Johnson ripped her second round-tripper of the inning to provide the final 16-2 margin. UTEP managed just one hit in their last at-bat, as the game ended due to the conference mercy rule.
Not to be lost in all of the ECU offense was yet another fine performance from freshman hurler Toni Paisley, who earned her 16th win of the season (16-4) and seventh in conference play. She allowed two earned runs on seven hits, walked two and struck out eight. Paisley ends her week with a record of 3-0, giving up just four earned runs and striking out 38 batters in four appearances.
The Pirates will take the week off before jumping back into conference play this weekend, as they host the league-leading Houston Cougars at the ECU Softball Field. The teams will play a doubleheader on Saturday while closing out the series with a single game on Sunday. ECU will also honor its three seniors this weekend as Keli Harrell, Jessica Potter and Joyce Roodenburg play their final games at the ECU Softball Field. First pitch on Saturday is slated for 1 p.m.