By Brian T. Chan, Sports Editor

Freshmen Nicole Corcoran and Amanda Buffington experienced the early-season jitters, but as the season progressed, both pitchers found a way to settle in and fit in with the other members of the George Mason University softball team.

While the ace of the staff is having the best season of her collegiate career, the team also looks to develop through its two freshmen pitchers. Mason is represented by a solid pitching staff.

Entering Wednesday’s doubleheader against the Mount St. Mary’s Mountaineers, Mason compiled a 2.84 team overall ERA, fifth in the Colonial Athletic Association. Mason ranks third in the conference with a 1.25 WHIP and has allowed the fewest walks, issuing just 1.61 free passes per seven innings.

The team has recently gone through a stretch, winning six of the past nine games and gaining confidence as they approach the latter part of the season.

“We’ve worked together very well,” said Buffington. “Everyone talks to each other, and everyone’s constantly picking you up.”

Buffington, the Virginia Beach native, provides a unique resume, being a solid pitcher and hitter in her four years at Landstown High School.

As the team captain in her senior year, she led the Beach District with 163 strikeouts and batted .396 with 15 extra-base hits, including five homeruns. In her junior year, she had an astounding .620 batting average with 18 RBIs.

While she has excelled on both sides of the field, Buffington strongly prefers pitching to hitting.

“I’m more confident in pitching, and I like having control,” said Buffington.

When not playing softball, Buffington enjoys surfing and traveling. Her next destination is Australia.

“It’s absolutely beautiful, and I want to do a lot of wildlife conversation stuff,” said Buffington.

Buffington, an undeclared major, chose Mason over several of the local schools, including Liberty University, Furman University, and Christopher Newport University.

Buffington has already made four starts and appeared in 14 total games. In that span, she has a 2-2 record with a 3.88 ERA in her 48-2/3 innings of work.

When she first arrived at Mason, Buffington lacked confidence in her transition from a high school standout pitcher to a first-year collegiate athlete.

In her debut against the Mountaineers, Buffington gave up a run on two hits and was charged with the loss as the Patriots lost in extra innings.

However, two games later, Buffington started her first career game and earned the win, tossing a complete game while striking out seven batters against the Hampton Pirates.

Her breakout game came against the James Madison Dukes last month, she threw her second complete game and held off the CAA defending champion in the win.

Despite suffering through the 12-0 trouncing to the Georgetown Hoyas, Buffington believes that her confidence level has gone up as she continues to make appearances out of the bullpen.

“[It’s important to gain] confidence definitely because I didn’t have very high confidence when I first came here and [to learn] more from the older girls like Becky [Anderson], who has taught me so much about the way you have to present on the mound,” said Buffington.

Corcoran joined the softball team as a walk-on after competing in soccer and basketball, in addition to playing softball under Head Coach Dave Conaway, at Radnor High School in Wayne, Pa.

“I loved being a three-sport athlete,” said Corcoran. “I always had something to do every season; I was never just sitting around. It just made my high school experience more enjoyable.”

Corcoran earned All-Central League honorable mention; in her senior year, she contributed to the Raiders’ 9-9 season and recorded the final putout in the outfield to win the district tournament for the first time in the school’s history in nearly three decades.

Corcoran admits that softball was not always the main sport she focused on, especially when she was heavily involved in the school’s athletic program.

“I really didn’t focus on softball until my senior year,” said Corcoran. “Injuries made me quit other sports.”

On top of the 12 years she has had at the club level in softball, Corcoran also participated in lacrosse for two years.

Corcoran comes from a town in which not many of its residents have heard of Mason. As one of the 10 freshmen on the 2010 roster, Corcoran felt that two driving factors led her to choose Mason.

“They had a good nursing program and a good softball program,” said Corcoran. “I really wanted to play sports in college, and the nursing program was ranked pretty high when I looked into it.”

In her free time, Corcoran enjoys watching medical television shows, including House, M.D. and Trauma: Life in the E.R.

Corcoran has seen limited action on the mound so far, making one start out of her four appearances. In her five innings of service, she has allowed eight runs on 10 hits.

Like Buffington, Corcoran had to overcome the pressure of making a good first impression in front of her new teammates.

“I was completely scared and very nervous,” said Corcoran. “All the girls were very intimidating at first, but after the first day, everyone was completely best friends.”

Corcoran had a solid start in her collegiate debut as she tossed 1-1/3 perfect innings against the Cornell Big Red.

“It was nerve-racking, but everyone talks in the field,” said Corcoran. “They really give you the sense to be comfortable, and you always know that they’re behind you.”

10 days later, she made her first start, lasting two innings as the Howard Bison racked up seven runs against Corcoran.

While the two pitchers have gone through the ups and downs of their freshman season, both Corcoran and Buffington feel that the growth of their confidence serves as a benchmark for their development as key pieces to the team’s future.

“Since we’re such a young team, I think it’s great because we keep growing every year, and you can tell by looking at the stats from last year and this year, we’ve improved drastically,” said Corcoran. “We’re going to hopefully, either this year or next year, make it to the [tournament]; we’re really starting to improve, and everyone’s skills are coming out more.”