The Bradsher Beat
Wednesday, February 26, 2014

By Bethany Bradsher

Christian still setting the pace

Newcomers jockey for No. 2 behind softball's pitching ace

After carrying much of the pitching burden for the ECU softball team in 2013, Sara Christian has picked up this season where she left off while setting an example for the team's first-year hurlers to follow. (Photo: ECU Media Relations)


ECU's road struggles continue


Christian still setting the pace


Akeem's record comes in record time

Audio: Brian Bailey Show
The Brian Bailey Show airs on Pirate Radio 1250 on Mondays at 6:30 p.m. This week's topic was Pitt Community College baseball with Bulldogs head coach Tommy Eason: Replay show...

Cavs complete sweep


Richmond achieves milestone in win


Audio: Lebo & players post-game...


Pirates handcuffed by No. 1 UVa


Cavs top ECU, 3-2


Ruff opposes substitution slowdown


Pirates hijack Louisiana Tech


Audio: Lebo & players post-game...


Recruiting report card: Defense


By Bethany Bradsher
All Rights Reserved.

Last season Sarah Christian carried the bulk of the load for the East Carolina softball pitching staff, winning 15 games, compiling an ERA of 2.94 and striking out a personal-best seven batters on two occasions.

As head coach Beth Keylon-Randolph recruited for this season, one of her chief goals was to lessen the burden on Christian. To that end, Keylon-Randolph brought in four new pitchers – two junior transfers, one true freshman and one second-semester freshman transfer.

On paper, Christian is still shouldering most of the innings – she had pitched 63 percent of the innings through the Lady Pirates’ first 12 games – but she is convinced that the competition at her position is partly responsible for her 6-1 start this year.

“It’s been helpful having four other people behind me, and that pushes me as well,” said Christian, a junior out of D.H. Conley in Greenville. “I have to keep getting better, because there’s someone right behind me.”

As Keylon-Randolph and her staff help the new pitchers adjust to their new stage, they are expecting one or two to emerge as the clear backups to Christian. Each have distinctive strengths, but at this point it’s hard to predict which one will step up.

“We’ve clearly established that Sarah is our number one, and I think we have four number twos,” Keylon-Randolph said. “I think it’s just a matter of time.”

The younger pitchers – Maci Mills from Calhoun, GA, and Lydia Ritchie, a Pikeville, TN, native who transferred to ECU after one semester at Division III Berry College, have each battled nerves over the intensity of the Division I game. Junior transfers Gabby Andino (Florida State College) and Caroline Umphlett (Brigham Young) are still working hard to find their places in the Pirate system.

If the orientation process is taking a little longer than Keylon-Randolph anticipated, she has two chief reasons for optimism: Christian’s outstanding performance so far this season and the flashes of brilliance she sees from each of the new pitchers. Christian has become increasingly comfortable with ECU’s system and her ability to thrive within it, and her fellow pitchers can see themselves in her journey.

“Sarah has really just bought into everything that we’ve talked about – how to approach the game, the hitter, counts, her pitches,” Keylon-Randolph said. “That’s what’s really taken her game to a whole new level. And she’s very confident in what she’s doing.”

Christian, who played her freshman season under former coach Tracey Kee, has also reached a new depth of understanding with Keylon-Randolph, resulting in a level of trust that allows the coach to call pitches with the certainty that the pitcher will both understand and deliver.

And if those improvements weren’t enough, her fast pitch has gained velocity this season.

“She’s throwing the ball much harder,” Keylon-Randolph said. “Sarah’s one of those pitchers, when you look at her stature-wise, she doesn’t say, I’m dominating. But she has the ability to be one of the top pitchers in the nation.”

As for newcomers like Ritchie, entry into the Pirate Nation has been a rich learning experience and a welcome challenge. She chose East Carolina because she really wanted to compete at the Division I level and she had worked with Keylon-Randolph before in Tennessee. Through each of the eight innings she has pitched so far she has become more at ease.

“I think it’s definitely good that we can give her relief,” Ritchie said of Christian. “We’ve got to work harder, because she’s still having to throw a lot of innings. We want her to know that we have her back.“

E-mail Bethany Bradsher

Bethany Bradsher Archives

02/26/2014 01:06 AM