JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (Oct. 26, 2010) - Twenty-six home games, four tournaments (including the inaugural Buccaneer Challenge), and a season-opening trip to Tennessee are all on tap for the Buccaneer softball program, as first-year head coach Brad Irwin released the 2011 ETSU schedule Tuesday morning.
The Bucs, who face three teams that appeared in the NCAA Tournament a year ago, open the campaign with Women's College World Series participant Tennessee on Feb. 15 in Knoxville. Following the single game affair with the Lady Vols, ETSU hits the road for three consecutive weekends to play in tournaments at Charleston, S.C., Chattanooga, Tenn. and Clearwater, Fla. ETSU closes out tournament play by hosting the inaugural Buccaneer Challenge, which will be held March 11-13 at the ETSU Softball Stadium.
"Most of the schedule was put in place before I arrived, but I believe our players will be challenged each time they step out on the field," said Irwin. "Playing at Tennessee and in four tournaments to begin the year will prepare us for the difficult conference season, which begins in late March."
The first tournament of the year sends the Bucs to Charleston, S.C. to play in the Cougar Classic during the weekend of Feb. 18-20. While in Charleston, ETSU will face Towson, Morehead State, Akron, Canisius and the host Cougars.
After playing five games in three days at the Cougar Classic, the Bucs return home to the Volunteer State and make a visit to coach Irwin's old stomping grounds when ETSU travels to Chattanooga for the Frost Classic. The first day of the tournament will be contested on Friday, Feb. 25 as the Bucs will tangle with Northwestern State and Chattanooga. On Saturday, Feb. 26, ETSU squares off with UT-Martin and Toledo, before closing out the tournament with another in-state rival, Tennessee Tech, on Sunday, Feb. 27.
ETSU's final road tournament sends the Bucs to the University of South Florida Under Armour Invitational for another five-game, three-day format during the first weekend of March. The Bucs open play with Columbia and BIG EAST foe Villanova, while facing SEC contender Arkansas and BIG EAST power South Florida on March 5. ETSU wraps up play with 2010 NCAA Regional participant Ball State on Sunday, March 6.
Following a 16-game road swing to open the season, ETSU heads home to play 16 of their next 18 games in Johnson City, beginning with the inaugural Buccaneer Challenge on Friday, March 11. The Bucs will see North Carolina A&T, South Carolina State, Pittsburgh, and St. Bonaventure enter the ETSU Softball Stadium come the second weekend of March.
With tournament play coming to a halt after the Buccaneer Challenge, ETSU makes a brief road trip to Presbyterian on March 17. From there, the Bucs return home as King kicks off a 12-game homestand for the Blue and Gold on March 21. During the extended home swing the Bucs open Atlantic Sun Conference play when ETSU faces reigning regular season and tournament champion, Lipscomb, on March 25. In addition to seeing the Lady Bisons, ETSU will also go head-to-head with fellow conference rival Belmont (March 26); while closing out the stretch of home games with Jacksonville (April 1) and North Florida (April 2). Sandwiched in between the pair of conference weekend games is a mid-week doubleheader with Appalachian State on March 30.
Things don't get any easier for the Bucs after the homestand as ETSU hits the road for two straight conference weekend tilts. The first trip sends ETSU to Stetson and Florida Gulf Coast (the weekend of April 7); while the Bucs tangle with Mercer and Kennesaw State the following weekend.
Fortunately, ETSU closes out the 2011 season with eight straight home games, beginning April 19. The Bucs host Furman to start the stretch run, and North Carolina Central is the final non-conference series ETSU will play on April 26. Meanwhile, ETSU faces Campbell on April 26, while the regular season finale features USC Upstate coming to town May 7.
"The A-Sun is a competitive league from top to bottom, so we need to come ready to play each game if we want to reach the conference tournament," added Irwin. "We have the advantage of playing more conference games at home, but that doesn't guarantee wins so we need to be focused from day one."
The double-elimination Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament will be held May 12-14 at USC Upstate's Cyrill Softball Stadium.