Publisher's note: This post appears here courtesy of the news and information section for East Carolina University men's and women's sports.
The curtain rises on the 2020 East Carolina softball season this weekend when the Pirates travel to Coastal Carolina University for the Kickin' Chicken Classic at St. John Stadium.
ECU will face off against Campbell, the host Chanticleers, Iowa and (RV) Virginia Tech before returning to Greenville for a 10-game homestand featuring a pair of round robin tournaments at the ECU Softball Stadium.
Head coach Courtney Oliver
enters her fifth season in charge of the program needing just five wins to reach 100 for her career.
The Purple and Gold posted a 23-31 overall record, as well as an 4-17 mark in American Athletic Conference play in 2019. ECU seeks its first winning season since notching a 28-20 record in 2014. The Pirates also look to return to postseason play for the first time since reaching the NCAA College Park Regional final in 2011.
Returning Pirates To Watch
Junior right-handed pitcher Erin Poepping
made 45 appearances last season (tied for 10th most in a single season in program history) with 33 starts and led East Carolina in earned run average (3.35), wins (15), complete games (19), shutouts (2), strikeouts (164) and innings pitched (215.1). Among American Athletic Conference pitchers, she ranked first in appearances and games started, second in innings pitched, third in strikeouts and strikeouts looking and fourth in wins. Poepping racked up double-digit strikeouts in four games, including a career-high 12 at George Mason. She was named the AAC Pitcher of the Week Feb. 11 after compiling a 3-0 record, 0.46 ERA and 13 strikeouts in 15.1 innings of work at the Spartan Classic.
Redshirt senior infielder Rachel McCollum
led the 2019 squad in doubles (10), RBI (41) and total bases (71) while ranking second in home runs (7) and third in batting average (.299) and hits (47). She finished third among American Athletic Conference hitters in RBI while posting a team-high 12 multi-RBI games and 10 multi-hit efforts. Additionally, McCollum produced a pair of grand slams as part of her offensive output.
Junior infielder Ashleigh Inae
played and started in 53 games as East Carolina's every day shortstop in 2019. She paced the squad in batting average (.322), runs scored (37), on base percentage (.447) and walks drawn (24) while ranking second in hits (49) and doubles (9). Inae also finished tied for fifth among American Athletic Conference batters in walks drawn.
In Season Openers
ECU looks to win its season opener for the seventh time in the last eight seasons and for the fourth time in five tries under Oliver. The Pirates knocked off Youngstown State by an 11-4 margin to begin the 2019 campaign.
Iowa posted a 19-32 overall record and 5-18 mark in Big Ten Conference play last season under first-year head coach Renee Gillispie. The Hawkeyes finished 12th in the league standings and lost to Wisconsin 7-4 in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament. DoniRae Mayhew enters her senior season as one of Iowa's top hitters, ranking among the 2019 team leaders in batting average (.258), hits (34), runs scored (12), doubles (8), home runs (5) and slugging percentage (.432). As a team, the Hawkeyes hit just .215 and were outscored 234-137. In the circle, Allison Doocy returns for one last campaign having served as Iowa's main pitcher a year ago. She compiled a 14-15 record with a 2.70 earned run average and 195 strikeouts against 57 walks in 187.0 innings of work. The Hawkeye pitching staff combined for a 3.99 ERA, 293 strikeouts and 146 walks in 327.2 innings.
The Iowa Series
East Carolina and Iowa have split four all-time encounters. The teams last met twice during the 2015 season at the Oklahoma Invitational. The Hawkeyes won the first contest 5-1 before the Pirates responded with a 3-2 victory in eight innings the next day.
Campbell finished the 2019 campaign with a 26-28 overall record and a 14-9 Big South Conference ledger - good for third place and the No. 3 seed in the league tournament. The Camels defeated Charleston Southern but fell to Radford twice in the postseason event. Campbell welcomes back All-Big South First Team selections Kynadi Tipler and Kayla Fredendall who were the top two batters by average a season ago at .376 and .346 respectively. The duo also combined for 19 doubles, 18 home runs and 55 RBI. As a squad, the Camels hit .294 with 61 doubles, six triples and 32 home runs. In the circle, Megan Richards enters her senior season as the top returning option in the circle after compiling an 11-9 record and a 5.07 earned run average with 77 strikeouts against 44 walks in 124.1 innings pitched. Campbell's pitching staff turned in a 5.87 ERA and 152 strikeouts in 262.1 innings of work. Sharonda Macdonald is in her second season as head coach of the Camel program.
The Campbell Series
ECU holds a 37-13 record against its regional rival Campbell. The Pirates and Camels came together for a doubleheader in Greenville last year and split the set. East Carolina cruised to a 9-4 win in game one but Campbell closed the day with a 10-2 five-inning triumph.
Examining Coastal Carolina
This weekend's host Coastal Carolina was 39-21 overall last season while ending up with a 13-14 record in Sun Belt play. The Chanticleers finished were the No. 6 seed in the league tournament and advanced all the way to the championship game before falling to Louisiana by a 1-0 score. Coastal Carolina will have the services of returning team batting average leader Courtney Dean who hit .327 with 11 doubles, 13 home runs and 36 RBI as well as a 1.063 OPS. Kassidy Smith is also back in the fold after belting out a squad-best 15 home runs and 37 RBI. As a team, the Chanticleers hit .246 with 67 doubles, six triples and 87 home runs. As for the pitching staff, Kaitlin Beasley-Polko returns for her junior campaign after pacing the Coastal Carolina unit in innings pitched (213.2), appearances (45), games started (31), earned run average (3.05) and strikeouts (172). The Chantcleer hurlers combined for a 3.20 ERA and 314 strikeouts in 392 innings. Kelley Green is in her tenth year as the head softball coach at Coastal Carolina University.
The Coastal Carolina Series
The Pirates are 28-17 all-time against the Chanticleers but the schools have not met on the softball diamond in nearly 13 years. Most recently, Coastal Carolina took two of three games in a non-conference series in Conway back on March 12-13 of the 2007 season.
A Look At Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech experienced quite a turnaround season in 2019 under first-year head coach Pete D'Amour, posting a 47-11 overall record and 20-4 mark in Atlantic Coast Conference action to clinch the league's regular season title. The Hokies stumbled in the ACC Tournament, falling to No. 8 seed NC State in the quarterfinals before bowing out to then No. 20 Kentucky in the NCAA Lexington Regional finals. Virginia Tech finished the campaign ranked No. 21/23. Collectively, the Hokies produced the nation's fourth-highest batting average at .334 with five hitters sporting a mark of .335 or above. Virginia Tech was also fifth in the country in home runs (97). Darby Trull enters her junior season looking to build on a sophomore year during which she batted .406 with a 1.124 OPS. Keely Rochard combined with the now departed Carrie Eberle to lead a Hokie pitching staff that boasted a 1.98 ERA and 359 strikeouts in 368 innings of work. Rochard herself was 22-3 with a 1.81 ERA and 193 strikeouts in 162.2 frames.
The Virginia Tech Series
Virginia Tech leads the series with East Carolina by a 9-6 margin. The last meeting resulted in a 2-1 victory for ECU Feb. 25, 2017 as part of the Pirate Invitational in Greenville.
East Carolina makes its home debut next weekend when it welcomes DePaul, George Washington and Hampton to the ECU Softball Stadium for the Pirate Classic. The round-robin event marks the beginning of a 10-game homestand which also includes the Pirate Invitational during which East Carolina will tangle with Massachusetts, Pittsburgh and Towson.