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View from the 'ville
Thursday, June 5, 2008

By Al Myatt

Godwin mapping strategy for 2009

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

Billy Godwin says a college baseball coach could make good use of a crystal ball. With the major league baseball draft beginning today, the East Carolina coach said he has tried to anticipate the voids that will result and compensate through recruiting.

"One thing we have to do as coaches, we have to kind of be fortune tellers and kind of plan for it," Godwin said. "Ryan Wood (second baseman) and Justin Bristow (right-handed pitcher) are two guys who are juniors who have the ability to go in the top 10 rounds."

Wood hit .306 in 2008 with 13 home runs and 51 RBI's. Bristow was 9-2 with a 3.07 earned run average.

"We'd like to have both of those kids back but when you can get inside the top 10 rounds, you've got decisions to make that affect your goals," Godwin said. "I think that's what these kids have to do."

Godwin has met with both players and talked about potential options.

"We kind of weighed out the pros and cons," said the Pirates coach. "I think it's up to them and their families from here on out. I think there's a good shot that those guys could go."

Godwin also expects some ECU seniors to be drafted.

"I think (Harrison) Eldridge certainly could," Godwin said. "T.J. Hose. Josh Ruhlman — there's been some interest in him and Corey Kemp (catcher). And with the tournament Jamie Ray had, he may have turned some heads."

Eldridge hit a team-high .352 as a senior and also led the Pirates with 32 stolen bases. Hose, a right-hander, was 7-4 with a 4.46 ERA. Ruhlman, a lefty who transferred from Central Michigan after his sophomore season, was 4-4 for the Pirates this year with a 3.26 ERA.

Kemp hit .341 and topped the team in homers (18) and RBI's (72). Ray hit .350 with seven homers and 53 RBI's.

Incoming class arriving intact?

While ECU will have to deal with a large number of departing players, Godwin's fortune teller instincts and insider information tell him that his incoming recruits should be arriving to help fill those voids.

"We went into this year and probably seven of our 12 signees were getting some kind of pro interest and they still are," Godwin said. "In talking with them and educating them on school, I feel very confident that we're not going to get hit very hard in the draft based on the feedback I've gotten from those kids and their families.

"They all want to be a part of what we're doing at East Carolina. Certainly, if something dramatic happened financially they would have to consider it but I think we've done a good job of educating them on the value of coming to East Carolina and what our program offers them.

"If we don't get hit very hard or I don't have any surprises there's a good shot we could land our entire recruiting class on campus."

Pecking order validated

The regional hosted by Coastal Carolina went exactly according to seeding in terms of the order of elimination of the four teams involved. Fourth-seeded Columbia lost twice in the double-elimination event and was out. Alabama, the third seed, was next to go as the Crimson Tide was paid back with interest for a 16-3 first round conquest of second-seeded ECU.

The Pirates battered the Tide 16-1 on Sunday before the top-seeded Chanticleers outscored ECU 24-11 to emerge unscathed at home and head for the best-of-three Super Regional in Cary this weekend.

Godwin said the 28-run disparity in margin of victory in the two Alabama games is testimony to the occasionally strange nature of baseball.

"Things happen in the course of a game where games can get away from you," Godwin said. "The score sometimes can not be indicative of the true level of abilities on the field. It's a really strange game sometimes.

"If you look at some things that happened in our season. We got beat by Houston pretty good on Friday night and we bounced back and beat them pretty good on Saturday. Same thing at South Carolina to open the year. I don't really have a great answer for it.

"The only thing I can focus on is how proud I was of our guys. They went in there with a little bit to prove. I thought there were two huge key factors (in the second Alabama game). One was Justin Bristow. I thought he was absolutely outstanding.

"And the first inning we got a lead that kind of got us up. Then Bristow just took control and we kind of played with the lead."

Bristow, of course, transferred from Auburn, the Tide's opposite number in an intense in-state rivalry.

"I'm sure it probably had something to do with it because he told me before the game that he had probably one of his worst outings of his career against Alabama the year before," Godwin said. "I think it probably had a little something to do with it, but Justin was capable of doing that with or without motivation."

Godwin on Cary Super Regional

Although Coach Godwin didn't have North Carolina on the schedule this season, he is familiar with the Tar Heels from several meetings last season. So he has some insight on the Super Regional which will send Coastal Carolina to the USA Baseball Center in Cary to face UNC-Chapel Hill.

Godwin was an assistant to current North Carolina coach Mike Fox at North Carolina Wesleyan.

"I think (North Carolina) has got an elite level of pitching that probably nobody in the country has," Godwin said. "I guess, according to the old adage, that good pitching beats good hitting.

"I think Coastal is a very balanced team. They've got a good blend of speed and power and they're really athletic. It will be an interesting matchup. I'd be curious to see how they do against an elite level pitching staff that North Carolina is going to have."

Godwin also thinks Rice, Conference USA's remaining entry, has sufficient talent and experience plus the advantage of playing at home in the Super Regional to stand a solid chance in the tournament.

Omaha trip starts on the mound

Godwin, of course, would much rather be actively involved in the NCAA Tournament than analyzing matchups at this point. He has met with returning Pirate players collectively and individually to get them focused on improving their performance to get them to their desired destination.

Almost as soon as the final out in the Conway, SC, regional was made, Godwin was moving ahead.

"I personally am not going to rest until we get our program to Omaha, playing for a national title," he said. "That's my personal goal that our coaching staff is committed to and our players are committed to.

"If you ask me if our season was disappointing — yes — but you know what, it's going to be disappointing for everybody but one club and that's the team that wins the national title. Overall, I guess I was very pleased with the year.

"Am I happy that it ended in the way it ended and the timing that it ended? No. But you look at college baseball. Everybody is good now. Everybody. For us to win 42 games and beat some of the people we did and do some of the things we did, I'm pleased with that."

One needs only to point out that two-time defending champion Oregon State and perennial NCAA Tournament fixture Clemson did not make the field to realize that the Pirates had another exceptional season as they made the Diamond Dance for the ninth time in the last 10 years.

"All it is for me — it's a solid foundation to continue to keep taking steps forward as we continue to try and reach our goal of going to Omaha," said Godwin.

The NCAA and Omaha have reached an agreement that will keep the College World Series in the city through 2030. That gives Godwin and the Pirates plenty of time to fulfill their goal.

Godwin knows it's special to be that last team standing. He was an assistant at North Carolina Wesleyan when the Bishops won the NCAA Division III championship in 1989. He won an independent school state title as head coach at Enfield Academy in 1994. Two of his former players at Louisburg College played prominent roles in Mount Olive's NCAA Division II national title this year.

He's talked with his players about what it takes to get to Omaha. That includes the difference in regular season performance that distinguishes a number two seed from a number one seed and regional host.

"That's something that I really emphasized to our guys in the meetings that I just concluded is how close we were and are," Godwin said. "We have to realize that as a program that winning two or three or maybe four or whatever games that give us that opportunity to enjoy those same benefits of hosting. It's such a definite advantage."

Godwin already has been working to cultivate thought patterns for next year.

"It's tough to do as a coach," he said. "But it's important that we turn the page and start to prepare. That's what good programs do. I kind of get fueled on failure. I'm not saying our season was a failure but we didn't reach what we wanted to reach.

"The first thing I did was meet with our club and get their minds focused on what we have to do next year. We talked about the things we have to do next year to be successful. We've met (as a coaching staff) deciding where we are going recruiting and what we have to do to continue to get that level of athlete that we want at East Carolina."

Godwin anticipates that his coaching staff will continue to work together.

"Everybody around the program has high expectations, but I can assure you this — nobody has higher expectations than I do," said Godwin. "They'll always remain high and we'll continue to bust our rear ends until those expectations are met.

"It's like I told my team at Louisburg when we went to the College World Series my third year at Louisburg. You know, 'Now don't be satisfied to go — we're going to win.' I think the big key for us — and you saw it this year — that will separate us is on the mound.

"You started to see that with some of the freshmen we brought in. I personally think next year's freshmen class is as talented if not better. When we can combine those two forces and get this thing going I think you're going to see the consistency that everybody wants to see because pitching is where it all starts."

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06/05/2008 01:59:52 AM


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