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The Bradsher Beat
Wednesday, February 13, 2013

By Bethany Bradsher

Bethany Bradsher

New staff, national ambitions drive softball

By Bethany Bradsher
All rights reserved.

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When Beth Keylon-Randolph and her staff arrived in Greenville to coach the East Carolina softball team, they knew it was imperative to communicate their ambitious goals for the program as soon as possible.

But that message was so important that it couldn’t be rushed. And the first priority, before the coaches could spend any time at all on their own dreams, was to hear from the players.

“We spent a lot of time when we got here, just getting to know them, and who they are and what they’re about and their expectations of themselves,” Keylon-Randolph said. “We wanted to see what their thoughts were, then we rolled out our expectations.

"At first, I think they were a little taken aback by them, because we actually expected more than they did.”

After 11 years at the helm at Chattanooga State Community College, Keylon-Randolph became ECU’s fourth head softball coach in October. She replaced Tracy Kee, who spent 15 years as the head coach before being dismissed after an internal inquiry in September.

To assist her, Keylon-Randolph brought in Steve Jaecks and Leah Kelley from her Chattanooga State staff.

It’s only been four months, but with one weekend of play behind her, Keylon-Randolph could say without hesitation that coaches and players are on the same page about the direction the program is heading and their potential to make a national splash right away.

When Keith LeClair arrived to lead the Pirate baseball team in 1997, he made ‘Omaha’ part of the program’s lexicon quickly, reasoning that only the highest objective was worthy of the team’s effort. Keylon-Randolph hopes to motivate her Lady Pirates in a similar way, keeping the NCAA Tournament in their sights at all times.

“We put our philosophies in, and they have grabbed it and run with it,” she said. “They trust us, and they trust that we’re here for them, so that’s huge.”

The coaching upheaval meant that the Pirates couldn’t play any type of fall schedule, Keylon-Randolph said. So essentially that first tournament — the five-game Pirate Classic — was a quick ramp-up period for a squad that features a young pitching staff with an experienced core of two seniors and seven juniors. Through those games, which ended with the Lady Pirates winning three and losing two, the coaches saw a quick learning curve for a team that is figuring out what its brand of excellence looks like.

After the Friday games, the coaches had a long list of things that the players needed to work on. By Saturday, the list was just of an average length, and by Sunday’s games the list was considerably shorter. Both the staff and the players received an education that will serve as their foundation moving forward.

“We had to try people here, move people there,” Keylon-Randolph said. “What I loved was, every day I saw a different part of our team understanding our philosophies and getting better. By Sunday, they played comfortable, they played relaxed, knowing they were going to do well.”

The Lady Pirates start the season with four pitchers — sophomores Sarah Christian and Courtney Smith and freshmen Mary Beth Smith and Morgan Eisenga — and Keylon-Randolph expects to lean on the more experienced pitchers while still figuring out the optimal situations to use the newcomers to the team’s advantage.

On offense, Keylon-Randolph has been pleased with the depth of her lineup. From top to bottom, the batting order shows an emphasis on power combined with an ability to make the most of the short game. Led by preseason All-Conference USA pick junior Jill Jelnick, the Pirate hitters should create some frustration in opposing pitchers.

“Our lineup, when I look at it, I think, ‘How do you pitch to these kids?’ because they’re such good hitters,” she said. “I think we have a lot of power, and we have a lot of tools because our power kids are also fast.”

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02/13/2013 03:50 AM

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