NEWS, NOTES &
The Bradsher Beat
Friday, May 29, 2009
By Bethany Bradsher
Seniors recognize historic
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(Photos: ECU SID)
It was a decade ago, in a restaurant booth in Baton Rouge, when the vision
was born for a first-class baseball stadium at East Carolina.
As those ECU administrators and boosters who were in on that first
conversation sparked the subsequent flurry of fundraising that laid the
foundation for what is now Clark-LeClair Stadium, there was one long-range
goal that helped drive the campaign. The envisioned facility, they hoped
sooner rather than later, would serve as the host of an NCAA Regional.
Of course, an aim like that can’t be reached strictly with bricks and
mortar. The players in a particular season have to collect enough wins
against enough tough teams to catch the attention of the NCAA. When the
Pirates learned Saturday that they would in fact be a regional host, the
players seemed to know that they had inserted themselves indelibly into the
highlight reel of the baseball program’s history.
“We’ve had some guys in the past that worked really hard to bring this
program where it is, coaches like Keith LeClair and Gary Overton,” senior
second baseman Ryan Wood said. “To be able to bring a host site to
Greenville is really awesome.”
The squad’s seniors, especially, grasped the magnitude of this assignment —
to be the first ECU team ever to host a regional at its home stadium.
Four of those players — Wood, Brandon Henderson, Stephen Batts and Drew
Schieber — have been with the program since their freshman year. That 2006
season was the only year in the past 11 when ECU hasn’t qualified for a
regional, and that failure sharpened their focus.
“We were the first team in a while that didn’t make it, and that was really
disappointing,” Schieber said. “To be here these three years and to have
this happen, it feels really good.”
In a sense, this is Coach Billy Godwin’s senior season too, since he came in
with Wood, Henderson, Batts and Schieber. He has to fight back tears when he
speaks of their leadership and the gratification of walking alongside them
to this point. From 33 victories the first year, to two regional
appearances, and finally a C-USA regular season title this spring, they have
Of course, this weekend’s regional battle with Binghamton, George Mason and
South Carolina represents a significant milestone to celebrate, but it’s
only the first step of the postseason climb. Starting Friday night against
Binghamton, the Diamond Bucs need to win three games to make a Super
Regional, then make it out of that “Sweet 16” round to reach the ultimate
tournament — the College World Series in Omaha.
It’s an arduous road, with 63 other talented teams standing in the way. And
even though they have won 14 out of their past 19 games, ECU’s recent
stumble in the Conference USA tournament still looms. The Pirates
fell to Southern Miss 5-2 and then
shut out by Tulane 3-0 last Friday
to be eliminated from the field.
On the bus ride home from Hattiesburg, the team weighed all of the possible
outcomes of that early exit. Godwin had been telling them all season that 40
wins and a regular season championship would probably be enough to give them
the host position.
But they had also been telling themselves that they would need to win at
least two games in the C-USA tournament, Batts said. They were so uncertain
that Henderson hadn’t even unpacked his suitcase as of Monday, he said,
since he had expected to be hitting the road again soon.
Now that the Pirates are securely sleeping in their own beds, the seniors’
task this weekend is to help the team move past that early elimination and
channel the pressure of being the No. 1 seed for the second straight weekend
into inspired fundamental baseball.
“I think we just need to relax," he said. "We put so much pressure on
ourselves to succeed (in the conference tournament), especially going in
there as the number one seed, we’ve never had that feeling before. We’re
just going to have fun and relax, and we need to swing the bat better.”
Schieber even wonders if the C-USA loss might be the best thing that has
happened to the Pirates, since they can head toward the Regional with that
misstep filed away as a learning experience.
“I think it might be a blessing in disguise how we played in the conference
tournament,” he said. “It will wake us up a little bit, and we’re definitely
going to play a lot better. We’ll just keep the same routine, and it’s just
another baseball game.”
The seniors have been in Clark-LeClair enough times to guarantee one thing —
an unforgettable atmosphere for their weekend visitors.
“This is huge for our fans and our family,” Batts said. “Just to see the
atmosphere that’s going to come, it’s going to be awesome.”
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05/29/2009 02:29:38 AM