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Thursday, January 23, 2003

By Al Myatt
ECU Beat Writer for The News & Observer

Mazey high on pitching, banking on sluggers



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New East Carolina baseball coach Randy Mazey has a simple theme for the upcoming season. It’s “We’re goin'."

That’s as in, we’re going to Omaha for the College World Series.

Mazey has said, in the manner of his predecessor Keith LeClair, that believing is the first step in the journey.

The Pirates embarked on that trip when they began preseason practice on Tuesday with little cooperation from Mother Nature. The temperature was in the mid-30s, but the Pirates went through almost three hours of preparation for the 2003 season.

ECU will be playing for its fifth straight trip to the NCAA Tournament.

“We’ve been very busy,” said Mazey, who took over in July as LeClair stepped aside for health reasons relating to his battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

“The last two months though seems like it’s taken six months to transpire because it is our slow time, but we’re just getting back into it now," said Mazey. "We had a great recruiting class this past fall. The assistants did a great job of bringing these guys in.

“We signed nine guys, eight of ’em pitchers because we’ve got to replace some of our pitchers this year. I’m very excited.”

Mazey isn’t counting on all of the signees arriving next year because the baseball draft might keep some of them from joining the Pirates program. He’s already had his eyes opened in fall practice by an unexpected degree of hitting.

“I came in thinking that the pitching staff was the strength of this team but in the fall the hitters beat the pitchers. It’s going to be interesting to see how these guys come out this spring,” he said.

The first game is Feb. 14, at home against Western Carolina, which means the Pirates have just over three weeks of preseason practice.

Mazey said getting the pitchers ready would be the primary focus.

“Getting their pitch counts up is the main thing,” Mazey said. “The position players — once you’ve practiced for about three weeks, you’re ready to see some outside competition. Our guys have really worked hard over the offseason, hitting in the cages, taking ground balls. Our guys are as dedicated to being successful as any team I’ve been on so we’re not worried about getting them motivated. I think three weeks of practice is going to be plenty.”

Darryl Lawhorn, a freshman All-American in 2002 and MVP of the Conference USA Tournament which the Pirates won in Kinston, has been working at third base after playing first last season.

“He’s been taking some ground balls at third base,” Mazey said. “We’re going to try him over there and see how he does. He’s a very talented kid and he’s a gamer so we think he’s going to be able to make that transition pretty well.”

Lawhorn’s twin brother, Trevor, has transferred to ECU from Barton but must sit out this year.

Mazey’s arrival has meant opportunity for many players.

“Coming into a new program, the guys who have been back-ups in the past see that as an opportunity to show some people what they can do. We had some guys this fall who really showed that they can play who haven’t played in the past. So the majority of the spots are wide open. It’s very competitive out here.”

As far as the pitching staff is concerned the outlook is a little more stable.

“We’ve got four seniors who we feel like are going to pitch the majority of our innings — Davey Penny, Will Brinson, Neal Sears and Glenn Tucker,” Mazey said. “Those guys, between the four of ’em, are hopefully going to throw a lot of innings as long as they stay healthy. We’re going to keep ’em well rested because we’ve got some depth behind them. But those are all established guys. They’ve been around the block and they’ve been successful so we’ve got some senior leadership there.

“If you look at most championship teams, most teams in the World Series, they’re an experienced, senior-laden team and that’s what we’ve got at that position. If you’ve got experience at any position, that’s the position to have it. We feel good about our staff.”

The Pirates should have some power, based on what Mazey saw in fall practice.

“We really think right now that we can put four or five guys in the middle of the lineup who are capable of hitting the ball out of the ball park,” Mazey said. “We don’t have a whole lot of team speed... . I like speed and I like to manufacture runs but we’re not going to run into outs when we’ve got guys at the plate who are capable of hitting the ball out of the park. I think that’s the type of club we’re going to be.

“The top and the bottom of the lineup, we might have to move some guys to make some things happen, but when those big guys are standing in the box we’re not going to try and make any outs in front of them when they can score two or three runs with one swing of the bat.”

Jason Tourangeau led the team in home runs in the fall but the senior has pitched previously in his career at ECU and has never had an at-bat for the Pirates.

One goal is top find someone to hit behind Lawhorn and keep opponents from pitching around him. John Henry Kail, a transfer from Georgia Tech, is a power hitter. Ryan Norwood can go deep, as can Mike Harrington.

Among newcomers, Mike DeJesus is regarded as a solid hitting second baseman. Freshman Mike Grace is a power hitter who may redshirt because of an arm injury.

“Don’t expect to see any Darryl Lawhorns out of this group just yet,” Mazey said. “They’re all just freshmen so they may have to wait their turn.”

A lot of people are familiar with Nate Logan, the son of former ECU football coach Steve Logan, who joins the Pirates after a prolific career at Greenville Rose. He is projected as a left-handed pitcher for the Pirates.

“Nate can throw strikes; he’s not overpowering,” Mazey said. “Nate at some point is going to get an opportunity to see if he can get college hitters out. With a guy like that when you watch him in the bullpen and he doesn’t have overpowering stuff, you just don’t know what he’s capable of doing until he does get in a game situation and see how he responds.

“He’s young. He’s a freshman and we’ve got all of those experienced pitchers so we’re going to pick his spots and just give him an opportunity to be successful.”

Mazey said the schedule is tough.

“I think we play the top four or five teams all on the road in Conference USA,” he said. “We open at Houston and finish at Tulane, so we have the two toughest teams on the road as the bookends. In between that we travel to Louisville and South Florida so we’ve got some tough games on the road.”

The non-conference schedule includes Central Florida, Duke, N.C. State and North Carolina.

“We don’t get a break but that’s the way we like it,” Mazey said. “We’re going to challenge ourselves and play the best people out there.”

Mazey stays in regular contact with LeClair, one of his best friends who brought him to ECU as an assistant in 1998. Mazey then spent four years on the staff at Tennessee.

“Keith is mentally, emotionally and spiritually as good as he’s ever been,” Mazey said. “I think he’s stronger than he’s ever been. Physically, of course, the ALS has taken its toll on him but we get some encouragement medically. He’s had some things done and we’re encouraged that some good things may happen. Nobody’s giving up and his spirits are good. He’s got a lot of well-wishers out there. Every time I see him he says to be sure to tell everybody hello and he’s thinking about ’em.

“He’s just as big a part of this program as he’s always been. I go over there every night and tell him what happened in the intrasquads, tell him about all the guys and he tells me who to pinch hit and who to start so he’s very involved in the program still, even if he can’t be out here every day like he once could.”

The funding is in place to build a new $7.5 million baseball stadium at the site where LeClair has taken ECU to national prominence. Construction is scheduled to start after the 2004 season. It’s already in use as a recruiting tool.

“We’re recruiting off of a drawing right now, an artist’s rendering, which is better than nothing, but it’s not like having the real thing either,” Mazey said. “It’s going to be a beautiful facility. It’s going to be one of the top three or four in the nation and we’re real excited about it. We’ve got to be patient. It’s going to be a little while yet.

“ ... I wish I could wake up tomorrow morning and walk in that stadium but we’ve got to be patient. Once it gets here, it’s going to be something special.”

The field will remain in its present configuration although the original plans called for home plate to be in the area that is currently left field. That will allow the preservation of the area beyond the outfield known as “The Jungle.”

Mazey is fine with that.

“I don’t think the sun is that big of a problem here,” he said. “We’ve got a great tradition in ‘The Jungle’ out there in left field. The sun sets over there (pointing past third base into foul territory from the first base side) in that corner right there. It doesn’t affect the hitters. It really doesn’t affect the outfielders playing a ball off the bat. Those are the two groups you’re worried about.

“It’s not that big a deal. The trees in the jungle are high enough to shade the sun from the outfielder’s eyes. The only problem is the first baseman taking a throw from the third baseman but it’s hard to have a field where nobody’s affected, so I don’t have a problem at all with this thing right where it’s at.”

The season can’t get here fast enough for ECU’s new head coach.

“I’m anxious to see how this team responds,” he said. “I’ve been in the SEC the last four years and that’s the best talent in the country. so I’m kind of anxious to see day in and day out what Conference USA is all about and how we stack up in this league. The first two weekends are going to be a good barometer for us — Western Carolina for three games and Central Florida for three games. If we can come out of those two weekends looking pretty good then I think we’ll have something to build on.”

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02/23/2007 12:40:21 AM

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