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View from the 'ville
Friday, March 4, 2011

By Al Myatt

Pirates showing the Wright stuff

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

In simplified terms, little went right for East Carolina against All-American Danny Hultzen in the opening game of the baseball series at Virginia last weekend. The Pirates contributed to their own demise in the second game and ECU got the better of the Cavaliers in the final game in Charlottesville.

The Pirates got big offensive production from catcher Zach Wright in topping Campbell 7-4 on Tuesday night.

ECU coach Billy Godwin and his staff are watching, evaluating and tweaking as the Pirates go into a home series this weekend with Pepperdine. Games are scheduled for 5 p.m. today, 2 p.m. on Saturday and noon on Sunday.

"I think it was three different deals," Godwin said of the series at Virginia. "Friday night, the Hultzen kid — you go into a game against an arm like that, you have to do everything you can to win it 1-0, 2-1 or, if you have an offensive explosion, maybe 3-2. That wasn't the case because we didn't play defense."

Five ECU errors contributed to seven unearned runs for UVa in ECU's first loss of the season.

"I thought the game sped up on some of our young guys, but (Hulzen) was certainly dominant, as good as any college pitcher I've ever seen in my tenure here," said Godwin.

Hulzen had 15 strikeouts and no walks in seven innings. He was 3-for-4 at the plate with three RBIs in a 10-1 win.

Virginia edged the Pirates 4-3 on Saturday.

"We made a costly error and we kind of botched a first and third situation and allowed them to score," Godwin said of the middle matchup at Virginia. "We played and competed. Zach Woods threw well and we got a good effort out of our bullpen."

ECU scored four runs in the second inning of the Sunday game and beat the Cavaliers 4-3. Mike Ussery had a three-run double in the decisive frame and Mike Wright held Virginia without a hit until the sixth inning.

"Michael Wright did an outstanding job," Godwin said. "We did some really good things. We didn't beat ourselves. We held them off which I thought was good. Zach Wright pretty much won the game for us. He threw two guys out, one in the eighth and one in the ninth, which I thought was huge."

The Pirate catcher was struggling at the plate to a degree going into the Campbell game. He was 4-for-21 on the season but had a run-scoring double and a grand slam against the Camels.

"He was scuffling a little bit but (has) been a model of grinding," Godwin said. "He's kept his head up. He's kept working. He was struggling at Virginia. He got down a bunt for us when we needed him to. He stayed in the game and that's so important at the catching position. You can't take your at-bats to the field and he showed great leadership in doing that.

"He's put the time in. He's working. We know he's going to hit and, hopefully, this is the beginning of good things for him starting with what he did Tuesday night."

Shawn Armstrong settled in after a shaky start against the Camels to pitch effectively for the win.

"It was good to get him out there and get some pitches under his belt, some innings under his belt," Godwin said. "We expect him to only get better from there."

Pepperdine returns trip

East Carolina lost its first two games with Pepperdine on the West Coast last season before Seth Maness pitched a win in the third game of the series. Maness will start this afternoon for ECU.

The Waves are 4-4 with a sweep of Eastern Kentucky and a 9-6 win at home over Cal-Santa Barbara on Tuesday. Pepperdine lost to UCLA and was swept by Fresno State.

The Waves have a .258 team batting average and a staff earned run average of 4.76.

"They've got a great program, a great coach, Steve Rodriguez," Godwin said. "He was on that national championship team."

Rodriguez was on Pepperdine's College World Series title team in 1992 and is in his eighth season as head coach of the Waves.

"I think it will be great for our program and our fans to see a team off the West Coast, nationally recognized," Godwin said. "It's going to be a good challenge. They're going to have good players. They're going to be pretty good on the mound. We've got to start to play at a level of consistency, hopefully, now that we're starting to get on a roll here with the weather and midweek games that we can just play well day in and day out."

Godwin will start Wright on Saturday and Woods on Sunday.

"The thinking is that Mike Wright deserves to throw on Saturday," Godwin said. "We're just moving him up a day — not that Zach (Woods) has done anything bad. When you make moves, it means guys are getting better and better. The key on the weekends is to have three guys who can go out there and get you wins. I think we're certainly in position to have that."

The Pirates have made tweaks among position players as well. Freshman Jack Reinheimer came out of the lineup after three errors in the first two games at Virginia.

"We're playing some older guys in the middle," Godwin said. "They've given us some experience and we seem to play better defense. Those young guys are going to be key components, talking about (Drew) Reynolds and Reinheimer. They've got their feet wet so to speak. They're going to be back out there because they're good players, but right now I'm just looking at it as who gives us the best chance to win today.

"We've got 12 or 13 options. I've played Reynolds, Reinheimer, Ussery, (Timmy) Younger, (Corey) Thompson and (John) Wooten — all in the infield, in and out, in different roles," Godwin said. "I've played four outfielders with (Philip) Clark, (Trent) Whitehead, the (Ben) Fultz kid is a freshman who has come on and played well for us. He's more of a platoon guy right now where he'll get time against right-handed pitching, and (Chris) Gosik.

"I have a lot of options because we're starting to get guys healthy. When we started the season, I kind of forecasted that. We had guys like Gosik had a hamstring injury. Ussery was nursing an arm injury. Now that they're starting to get back healthy, we're starting to get some more options.

"I think it's just whoever's playing the best and we'll continue to do that. Every game, it will be about matchups and who gives us the best chance to win on that given day."

Thoughts, numbers on new bats

The less lively metal bats mandated by the NCAA have had a subtle effect early in the season.

"I don't think you're as fearful of missing in," Godwin said. "We're going to attack in and pitch in. I don't think you're quite as fearful of that because of the bat if there is a reason. Like I said and I think Coach (Dan) Roszel (pitching coach) says it, 'I don't care about the bat.' I think you've got to pitch in anyhow to be successful. I think we've got the kind of arms that can do it.'

Godwin said Conference USA had crunched some numbers on offensive production for this season compared to the same stage of the 2010 season.

"Runs per game this year are 6.34," said the Pirates coach. "Last year, they were 6.61. Hits are 9.48 vs. 10.59 (2010). Doubles are more — 1.95 vs. 1.85 last year. Triples are .38 vs. .24. Home runs are down .55 (2011) to .90 (2010). Home runs are down about 40 percent, which is about what I said I thought it would be.

"I don't think you're seeing the game change as far as the runs scored. You may not be seeing quite as much long ball production which I think is what we all kind of predicted."

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04/01/2011 01:26 AM


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