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College Sports in the Carolinas


View from the East
Thursday, May 29, 2003

By Al Myatt
ECU Beat Writer for The News & Observer

Soul food fuels trek to arduous Atlanta regional


The East Carolina baseball team left around 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday for its NCAA Tournament regional in Atlanta, stopped at Lizard’s Thicket in Columbia, S.C., for some country cooking for lunch and arrived in the Georgia capital around 5 p.m. The team is staying at the Marquis Marriott off of Peachtree Street.

The Pirates practice today at Georgia Tech’s Russ Chandler Stadium at 1:30 p.m. and play South Carolina at 3 p.m. on Friday.

The team took in the Atlanta Braves’ 15-3 win over the Cincinnati Reds at Turner Field on Wednesday night.

The Pirates are coming off a 2-2 performance in the Conference USA Tournament in which ECU allowed a total of eight runs in four games.

“I’m happy where we are,” ECU coach Randy Mazey said of his pitching staff. “Everybody who toed the rubber down in New Orleans threw pretty well, so I like our chances. I’m never giving up on these guys and they never give up. We said from day one we want to play our best baseball in May and June and we’re doing that right now.

“We’ve gone through a lot of different lineups to get there and we’ve settled on one. ... We’re hot right now.”

Mazey is concerned about how the Pirates will match up with the Gamecocks, who are ranked No. 15 nationally by Collegiate Baseball, No. 21 by Baseball America and No. 24 in the USA Today/ESPN coaches poll.

“South Carolina’s left-handed pitching — that’s their strength,” he said. “They’re going to throw some good guys at us. I assume when they see our lineup, they’ll probably throw a lefty, so we’re going to have to hit some pretty good left-handed pitching.”

Gamecocks coach Ray Tanner played and later coached at N.C. State. South Carolina finished as the runner-up in the NCAA Tournament in Omaha last year and is 39-20 this year.

“I know Ray very well,” Mazey said. “I’ve coached against Ray everywhere I’ve been. I played at Clemson. I grew up in college not liking South Carolina so it would be really nice to beat those guys.

“I’ve got a lot of respect for Ray. He does a great job. His staff does a great job. Those guys play hard. They overachieve. It’s going to be a battle. I fully expect it to be a battle.”

The NCAA Tournament bid is the fifth straight for the Pirates but their No. 3 seeding is the lowest in that span. ECU was a No. 1 seed in 1999, 2000 and 2001. They were a No. 2 seed last year.

Mazey obviously would prefer not to be watching the selection show and wondering if his team is going to be included in the field as was the case this past Monday. A new $7.5 million stadium, set for construction after the 20004 season, should advance the competitive level of the program.

“I think the future of this program is bright,” said the first-year Pirates coach. “When we get the new stadium built, we’re going to be able to attract kids from all over the nation to come here. In the last four or five years, the kids who were here and the coaches who were here set the precedent ... for all this tradition that enables us to get into regionals as a bubble team.

“I just think in the next three, four, five years when we get a chance to recruit to that new stadium for three or four years — bring three different classes in there — I’m nothing but optimistic about what’s going to happen here over the next 10 years.”

For the time being, Mazey is confident that the Pirates will give 110 percent in Atlanta.

“You don’t have to worry about energy with this group,” Mazey said.

“That’s the way they play — the way they reacted (when the Pirates matchup was shown on television in the bracket announcements). ... There’s a lot of energy in our dugout. Our guys just play with a lot of heart. That reaction is very indicative of what this team is like. ... I fully expect them to represent East Carolina very well.

“Hopefully, we’ll win two or three games and start thinking about a super regional.”

Mazey admitted he wasn’t sure if ECU (33-25-1) would get the program’s 19th trip to an NCAA regional when he walked into the Pat Draughon Room of the Ward Sports Medicine Building on Monday to watch the selection show with the team.

“To be honest with you, I was nervous,” he said. “I didn’t know what to expect. I went and did my projected 64-team bracket (Sunday) and there was a couple of upsets around the nation in some tournaments, which was normal. When I saw the first couple of pairings and saw teams like Stetson and Jacksonville and Rutgers — all teams who were bubble teams, all get in — I wasn’t too optimistic.

“To be honest, I was banking everything on the Wilson regional but, heck, we’re not picky. We’d go anywhere to play. It’s just a great feeling to see our name pop up there. ... I was no different than the guys. I’ve been through all the battles with these guys and we’re all in this together. I don’t think I felt any different than they did — just excited to be in.”

South Carolina leads the series with the Pirates 10-3 and is 3-0 against the Pirates in NCAA Tournament play. The teams last met in postseason play in Atlanta in 1993 with ECU falling 6-5 in another opening round contest.

Senior right-hander Will Brinson is expected to start against the Gamecocks on Friday.

“You know South Carolina is going to be a good team,” Brinson said. “That regional looks pretty tough with Georgia Tech. You’ve just got to go out there and pitch your game and hope everything falls in place for you.”

Host Georgia Tech (44-16) is the No. 3 seed nationally and No. 1 for the regional. The Yellow Jackets play No. 4 seed Stetson (39-22) at 7 p.m. on Friday. Ranked No. 7 in two national polls, Tech captured the ACC Tournament championship on Sunday by winning three games on the last day in Salem, Va.

“We’ve got a tough bracket ahead of us,” said sophomore shortstop Darryl Lawhorn.

“I don’t know anything about them other than they were in the national championship last year,” said senior outfielder Ben Sanderson, who wears No. 23 in honor of former coach Keith LeClair, of the matchup with South Carolina.

“They’re a great program, great tradition down there and I don’t know a whole lot about their team this year but I know we’ve got a real big task down there.”

The next win would be No. 100 for coach Mazey in his college coaching career. He was head coach at Charleston Southern from 1994 to 1996.

Friday afternoon in Atlanta would be a great time to reach that milestone.

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02/23/2007 12:41:12 AM

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