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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
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.“