All things must come to an end at some point. That’s a fact the seniors on the East Carolina University’s softball team are now facing.
Pitcher Lydia Ritchie, outfielders Kacie Oshiro and Ciara Ervin, and infielders Ali Ramirez and Megan Quick had their share of ups and downs during their four years as Pirates, but they stuck through it and grew as players.
Now, as their playing days at ECU have come to an end after falling 6-0 to Houston in the semifinals of the American Athletic Conference Softball Championship, the five seniors can look back at their accomplishments with pride, knowing they’ve helped lay the foundation for future Pirate softball players.
The quintet began their college athletic careers back in 2014, the last season ECU had a record above .500, finishing 28-20. All five saw playing time that year, but because of their inexperience at the college level, it was limited playing time, with none starting more than three games. But that doesn’t stop Oshiro from listing her first year as the highlight of her time at ECU.
“My proudest moment must’ve been my freshman year when I got to play with my sister [Kristi],” Oshiro said. “That was her senior year, so I think that was one of the most memorable things [of my career].”
As the girls became sophomores, their roles on the team grew. Oshiro, Ervin and Ramirez all started at least 40 games, while Quick was a starter for 18 games. Among the pitchers, Ritchie had the third-most starts, with 11, and the lowest ERA (3.29). But while their individual fortunes improved in 2015, the team wasn’t so lucky. The Pirates went 16-37, no doubt in part because the head coach, Beth Keylon-Randolph, went on a leave of absence before the season started and never came back. But that time with no head coach is something Ramirez credits for making them stronger.
“We had to go our sophomore year without a head coach, so we’ve grown and really unified,” Ramirez said. “We’ve become united and we’ve learned how to just build off one another.”
Shortly after the 2015 season ended, ECU brought in Courtney Oliver to be the new head coach. Oliver’s effect was felt immediately, with the Pirates record improving to 23-31 in 2016, a seven-game improvement from the year before. Ritchie played a large role in that, winning 13 games. Ervin was also a key contributor, maintaining a .315 batting average while hitting seven home runs. Those seven home runs led the team, a feat the diminutive outfielder said is one of her proudest moments as a Pirate.
This past season saw the softball team improve its record again, finishing 26-30. Oshiro, Ervin and Ramirez started all 56 games, while Quick started 55. But what will be remembered most about the 2017 season are all the home runs the team hit. The Pirates hit the ball out of the park 64 times, which set a new school and AAC record. Ramirez played her part, hitting nine home runs, good enough for third most on the team. Oshiro, who smashed four home runs herself, believes the record is something Pirates to come can build from.
“I’m hoping that future players will want to aspire to break that record,” Oshiro said. “I think that it sets the standard a lot higher for us to keep on improving and making our program a lot better.”
But the home run record wasn’t the only thing to write home about during the 2017 season. After finishing the season with 17 wins and a 2.71, Ritchie was named to the AAC Second Team. It was the first all-conference selection for a Pirate since ECU joined the AAC before the 2015 season. The milestones didn’t stop there, as the same day Ritchie was named to the all-conference team, the Pirates won their first-ever AAC Softball Championship game since joining the conference, beating Central Florida 4-2 in the quarterfinals. Since ECU was hosting the tournament, the Pirates were able to get the win in front of their home crowd, which was something they enjoyed.
“It’s really special, just because we love this field and we love our facilities,” Ritchie said. “Getting to play possibly our last game just really means alot to us to stay at home.”
With the obstacles they faced earlier in their careers at ECU, the five seniors said they are proud of what they’re leaving behind for those that come after them.
“It’s just awesome that we’ve set a legacy like that,” Quick said. “We’ve kind of been the underdog for a little while and it’s just nice to put our name up on the map and let it be known we’re not playing around.”