NEWS, NOTES &
Friday, February 2, 2007
By Bethany Bradsher
No limit to fine-tuning for Baseball Bucs
By Bethany Bradsher
All rights reserved.
The cold was bracing and Wednesday’s practice
was stretching out long for the East Carolina baseball team when a batter
laid down a solid bunt and claimed first base in some scrimmage innings.
In the dugout, few of the Diamond Pirates took
note of the bunt. Head coach Billy Godwin turned from his place on the
third-base line and addressed the group behind him.
“For those of you who are new, we treat a good
bunt the same way we treat a home run,” he told them. “Don’t just sit in the
dugout. That’s the way we play.”
The players hopped up to greet the batter with a
fist bump, and thus ended another of Godwin’s object lessons in his main
theme of the preseason: To succeed, a team must pursue excellence in the
Even as he stresses the big plays and the
primary game strategy, Godwin has his team majoring in the details. He has
become convinced that every top national team — all perennial College World
Series competitors — exhibits that kind of attention to the more
marginalized parts of the game.
“We talk about doing the little things better
than anyone else in the country,” Godwin said. “Getting a guy over, or
getting a bunt down, or being a good teammate. We have to do all the little
things better than anybody.”
As any coach or serious fan knows, those little
things often add up to huge importance when a game is on the line. And so
one of the Pirates’ most trusted pitchers has been entrusted with maybe the
biggest “small thing” there is — the final innings of a close game. Finding
the right closer was at the top of the coaching staff’s to-do list after
last season, when the Pirates lost nine games in the ninth inning.
To find the right person, Godwin said, he
considered a series of factors, and spent time talking over the matter with
players and his fellow coaches. The consensus choice, with the right
combination of toughness and skill, was junior Shane Mathews.
“What you would like to have, first of all, is a
guy that’s got some stuff, the pitches,” Godwin said. “He’s shown he can win
at this level, he’s got the stuff to go in and win. But I think the thing is
his mentality. He’s been battle tested; he’s been in some pretty tight
"I think the other thing
is, his ability to bounce back, his durability.”
Since Mathews got the nod as the closer, he has
spent some time studying the great closers of the game and the attitude that
should govern those pitchers. What he’s discovered is that keeping a cool
head is as crucial as throwing the right pitches.
“You’ve got to stay calm, and you’ve got to stay
focused on what you’re doing out there, because to come into that role is a
high-pressured situation,” he said. “You’ve just got to be focused and not
let the crowd or the batters or the situation on the field dictate how you
A Conover native, Mathews was named to the
Conference USA All-Freshman Team during his first season and was forced to
take a medical redshirt during his second, when he required Tommy John
surgery. Last year he compiled a 4.73 ERA and won five games as a starter.
During summer ball in the Cape Cod League, he
alternated between the starting lineup and the bullpen, and he became
comfortable in the pen. So when Godwin approached him in November about
closing, he embraced the challenge.
“Every game, you’ve got to come to the park
ready to pitch,” he said.
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02/23/2007 01:14:35 AM