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Youngsters could be ‘Kee’ to success

By By KEVIN TRAVIS, Sports Editor
GREENVILLE — There’s a chance Tracey Kee could reach the 500-win milestone with the East Carolina softball team this season.
However, that’s far from her main concern.
The veteran head coach, who is 457-229-1 as she embarks on her 11th season, is most concerned with 458 right now. Kee has her Lady Pirates working hard as they prepare for the Feb. 9 season-opener in the Carolina Classic against Tennessee, which finished third in the 2006 Women’s College World Series.
ECU will take on the Volunteers, ranked second in the nation, at 10 a.m. That will be followed by a 12:15 p.m. game against Gardner-Webb.
The Lady Pirates will then face Ohio and the College of Charleston on Feb. 10 before wrapping up the tournament Feb. 11 against 2006 NCAA regional participant N.C. State.
Kee, who has led her teams to 40 or more wins eight times in 10 years and tallied 50 or more victories in four seasons, said her players have been working hard as they prepare for the season.
Dealing with the cold
While the Lady Pirates enjoyed practicing in warm weather earlier this year, the team has had to endure frigid conditions of late.
Aloha, Greenville
The Lady Pirates have three players from Hawaii on the team.
Those hailing from Hawaii are freshman utility players Cristen Aona, Charina Sumner and Kaui Tom. Kee joked that she recruited them while on vacation, but actually saw them play in Colorado.
Harrell a key returner
Having back your top pitcher sure helps soothe a coach.
Senior pitcher Keli Harrell is back for her senior season. Harrell was 26-15 with a 1.72 ERA last year.
Other top returning players include Erin St. Ledger (.306 batting average), Jessica Potter (.276), Paige Baggett (.273), Vanessa Moreno (four homers, 19 RBIs, .255), Beth Nolan (three homers, 22 RBIs, .253) and Jessica Johnson (three homers, 29 RBIs, .207).
Replacing Jessup not easy
As Kee watched her players go through drills on a sunny but cold Wednesday afternoon, she realizes she has some big shoes to fill from a team that went 40-24 last year.
Most notably missing is catcher Krista Jessup, who led the team in hitting last year. Jessup is now playing with the Chicago Bandits, a professional softball team.
Kee plans to use a platoon to replace her four-year starting catcher.
Moreno, Roodenburg and freshman Tiffany Shaw will look to share duties behind the plate.
Grueling schedule
After a trip to Boca Raton, Fla., to play in the FAU Dunkin Donuts Classic, the Lady Pirates will play their first home game Feb. 23 against Towson. That will be a part of the Hampton Inn Pirate Classic.
That’s just part of a tough schedule that includes NCAA regional participants North Carolina, Michigan, Florida Atlantic, Coastal Carolina, Hofstra, Long Island and defending Conference USA champion Tulsa.
Looking for fans
Kee would like to see as many fans as possible head to the games.