March 30, 2012
By Jon Cooper
Georgia Tech softball assistant coach Shaina Ervin never threw a pitch from the circle of Dail Softball Stadium, yet she was as responsible as anyone for its existence.
Ervin was the first verbal recruit to the newly established NC State softball program in 2004 and, two years later, as a junior, put the program on the map.
On the strength of her right arm, the 2006 Wolfpack went 14-6 to win the ACC regular-season championship (the program had 10 total conference wins its first two seasons). They then won the ACC Tournament, coming off the deck to become the first team to win four straight games, knocking off Virginia Tech, North Carolina twice, then Florida State, led by Ervin, the tournament MVP. State proceeded to earn an NCAA Tournament berth, and even won a game.
Two years after the ’06 miracle, Dail Stadium was completed. Needless to say, this weekend’s series between the Yellow Jackets and the Wolfpack in Raleigh is not just another ACC series for Ervin.
“It’s going to be a pretty special weekend,” said Tech’s second-year pitching coach and 2007 NC State graduate. “I haven’t been back to NC State since I graduated. So I’m actually going to be playing on the field I wanted to play on but it wasn’t built in time and I’m going to be coaching against the coach that coached me in college (State head coach Lisa Navas). It’s going to be pretty emotional.”
Ervin is keeping it professional.
“I’m excited for the girls to play a conference series and it’s definitely about them. It’s not about me,” said the Huntersville, N.C., native. “To have my family there to watch me coach, they don’t get the opportunity to watch me work with the girls so I’m really excited to have most of my family there. It’s going to bring back really good memories of successes that we had and just having the honor to have started that program over there. I think it’s going to be a really good weekend.”
The Yellow Jackets hope it’s good for them. This is their first ACC road test and one they need to win, preferably sweep. They come in 3-3 in conference play, having swept Boston College last weekend, and sit in fourth in the tightly packed ACC but are a series win from possibly moving as high up as second. They’d also like to stay within striking distance of front-running Florida State, which is 6-0 and on the schedule in two weeks (the Seminoles host North Carolina this weekend). It’s a series Tech should win, as the ‘Pack is 0-5 in two conference series, getting swept by FSU and dropping two to Virginia Tech — one game was cancelled).
The Jackets would like to continue its current run of dominance over State, which has seen them win nine straight games over the Wolfpack, outscoring them 72-16. They are 17-8 all-time against State and 11-5 in the Sharon Perkins era. They are 3-3 all-time at Dail Stadium.
Ervin admits that it might be tempting to think about what it might have been like to pitch from inside the pitcher’s circle, but her current line of work dictates that that’s a place she’d prefer to not visit during any of the three games. Reminiscing from the dugout would be just fine.
“I’m going to soak it all up. The girls that are playing on it now have earned that,” she said. “I feel like I helped pave the way for where they are and what they’re playing on. Hopefully they carry that with great pride and great honor and great humility as I do in the position that I am as well.”
Ervin is proud of the job her pitching staff has done this season, even if the numbers aren’t necessarily where she’d like them. In ACC play, the Jackets have allowed the most hits, the most walks, are tied for the most earned runs and second-most runs.
The group is finding its way with only one upperclassman, junior Hope Rush, who is coming off an injury that hampered her last season, sophomore Lindsey Anderson, who is looking to regain her freshman form, while breaking in a pair of freshmen Kylie Kleinschmidt and Karly Fullem.
“I think our pitching staff has done a good job at giving our team a chance to win almost every ball game,” said Ervin. “We’ve had hiccups here and there but I think Hope has stepped up in some really big games and I think Kylie and Karly are filling shoes right now and they’re tackling it and doing the best that they can. Freshmen always have huge learning curves. I feel like Kylie is learning every single day and they’ve really stepped it up.”
State’s staff has its share of struggles, as well. In ACC play, they’re pitching to a 4.57 ERA — almost a run more than Georgia Tech’s 3.68), they’ve given up 35 runs (Tech has allowed 23) and opposing hitters are batting a healthy .294 against them (opponents are batting .269 against Tech).
Wolfpack pitchers may see Shaina Ervin walking through that door this weekend, but she won’t be there to help them, at least not in Ervin’s best-case scenario. No hard feelings, of course.
“There will always be a special place in my heart for NC State,” she said. “Although I want to beat them all three games this weekend, it doesn’t change the memories and the softball and the academics and the overall life lessons I learned while I was there.”