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View from the 'ville
Friday, March 25, 2011

By Al Myatt

Pirates primed for league play

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

East Carolina starts a new segment of the 2011 season at Clark-LeClair Stadium this evening at 6 p.m. as the Pirates initiate Conference USA play with the opener of a three-game series with Memphis.

The Pirates have compiled a 16-4 record thus far with a team batting average of .280 and a staff earned run average of 1.67.

"I feel real good about where our club is and what we're doing," said ECU coach Billy Godwin on Thursday. "We've got 36 (regular season) games left. Twenty games seems like a lot but the 24 in the league are one of the things we talk about as a team. We bring guys here to compete for championships and certainly we have the opportunity to do that starting with our Conference USA season so it's important to get off to a good start."

Ironically perhaps, ECU starts the 2011 league slate against the program that ended the Pirates' 2010 campaign. Godwin practically had put a 2-run walkoff homer by the Tigers' Tyler Huelsing for a 3-2 win in the C-USA Tournament last season in Houston out of mind.

Godwin said ECU isn't thinking about payback.

"We don't look at it like that," he said. "This is a new year, a new team. We're playing for a bigger prize than payback, which is to win the league. We just need to come out and be focused and do the things that we've been doing over the last 20 games."

Seth Maness, Mike Wright and Kevin Brandt will go to the mound sequentially in starting roles for the Pirates over the weekend. Brandt will be looking to follow up on seven quality innings of work in a start against Rutgers on Sunday. Brandt allowed just two hits and struck out 12 in a 6-0 ECU victory.

"Kevin was really good and we knew he would be," Godwin said.

The start against the Scarlet Knights was just the second of the season for the junior left-hander from Fuquay-Varina.

"He was great out of the bullpen," Godwin said. "He gave us a great left-handed, long relief option out of the bullpen. We will continue throughout the year to mix and match our rotation to guys who are hot and throwing well. Kevin had a great week last week."

Godwin has more depth than last year, which presents a lot of options in regard to position players.

"Austin Homan got a pinch hit at-bat last Friday," Godwin noted. "He's starting to get stronger and work his way back into the equation, which is good because he's a career .330 hitter here. A lot of people don't realize that.

" ... I kind of joked with our team the other day. We're kind of like the Dirty Dozen. We play about 12 guys every game. We have some different starters and some different guys in there at the end but I said, 'The key is you're getting in there and contributing and helping us win.' "

Young players step up

ECU's rookies have responded well when they have had opportunities.

"It was clear evidence last Wednesday night," Godwin said. "I had five freshmen in the lineup against Buffalo with (Austin) Chrismon starting. That speaks volumes to the confidence that I have in them as players — to put them on the field with the ability to compete at a high level. We've been starting three or four freshmen about every game.

"One good thing, looking back over the last 20 games, because our pitching has been so good, it's given those guys a chance to mature and get at-bats under their belts. I think we can only get better from here offensively."

Eye on the weather

The region enjoyed some warmer weather earlier in the week but the forecast during the Memphis series is calling for cooler temperatures and possibly some showers.

"We'll keep a pulse on the weather and see if we need to make any alterations to get our games in," Godwin said.

Games were originally scheduled for 6 p.m. tonight, at 3 p.m. on Saturday and for noon on Sunday.

"The players realize we have to do what we have to do," said the ECU coach. "Whether it's playing two on one day or whatever's best. We've created the mindset that whatever it is, let's just suit up and go get it."

Little Leaguers get instruction

The Pirates are scheduled to conduct a clinic for Little League players on Saturday morning.

"That's our plan, depending on the weather," Godwin said. "It's something we've done every year I've been here. With the Greenville community and, not just the Greenville community, it's open to any Little Leaguer — but it's important for our guys to give back a little bit. Those kids have the opportunity to work with our players on the field and we invite them back to the game. It's just a great event where we're able to promote our game and, hopefully, give each kid one thing that they can take away that inspires them to continue to play baseball."

A look at Memphis

The Tigers are 11-8. Memphis went 12-12 in the C-USA regular season in 2010.

"They had a very good Conference USA season last year," Godwin said. "I think they finished third or fourth in the league. They've got a lot of guys back. They've got a veteran club. ... It's going to be a good challenge for us. ... We're at home. That's an advantage. They've got one of the top two table setters in the league with (Drew) Martinez and (Chad) Zurcher. I think the key for us is to control those guys."

Zurcher is hitting .471. He's 6-for-6 on steal attempts and has been hit by pitches seven times this season. Martinez is hitting .346 and is 11-for-13 on stolen bases.

"It doesn't seem like anybody else has controlled them so that's going to be a tremendous challenge," Godwin said. "We need to keep them from causing havoc out on the bases. If we can control them, that's where it starts in our scouting.

"On the mound, they've got some guys with some arm strength. Their Friday night guy is up to 94 (mph). They've got a good closer who's up to 94. There are going to be some challenges. Their pitchers look like they throw strikes. They compete.

" ... We've got to be able to compete at a higher level than they do. That's the bottom line."

Pregame schedule

The ECU players are supposed to report at the stadium by 3:15 p.m. today. Some will have class schedules that will allow them to do some earlier preparation with ECU coaches.

The Pirates will stretch and throw with batting practice scheduled from 3:45 to 4:30. ECU will have a team meeting while the Tigers take their batting practice. The Pirates will review the scouting report and go over the game plan. ECU will take infield/outfield at 5:10 p.m.

"There are coaches who make out their lineup a day or two in advance but I always like to make our lineup out after batting practice," Godwin said. "I come in the office after I meet with the team and go over our game plan. I make the lineup out and that's posted probably an hour prior to the game."

Godwin likes to see his players take batting practice before filling out his lineup card.

"You're dealing with 18- to 22-year olds," he said. "You want to see 'em. You want to see 'em moving around. You don't know who's had a bad day in class. You just like to see if they're in the frame of mind to go out and compete at a higher level. If some guys are swinging well in batting practice and look like they're ready to compete at a higher level, they may work themselves into the lineup."

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04/01/2011 01:26 AM


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