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The Bradsher Beat
Thursday, January 28, 2010

By Bethany Bradsher

Baseball Bucs seek more than tributes

By Bethany Bradsher
All rights reserved.

Every day seems to bring a new honor to the East Carolina baseball team. A top 20 ranking in one poll, then another, then another. Four preseason All-Conference USA selections. Senior Kyle Roller was first a preseason All-American, then ranked as the sixth best player in the nation.

Head coach Billy Godwin doesn’t ignore such accolades entirely. But he is quick to tell his players this: Those honors are just words that someone wrote down. At this point, with official preseason practice still two days away, they don’t have any basis in actual baseball performance.

“There has been a lot of excitement,” Godwin said at ECU’s baseball media day on Wednesday [Select audio clip...]. “We’ve gotten some great press early in the year from some of the national publications. I’ve cautioned them not to read their press clippings. That’s not going to win us anything. That’s paper.

"I’m always telling Roller and (Seth) Maness and all these guys who have won great awards, ‘Hey, what’s that preseason All-America going to get you? And they’re like, ‘Nothing.’ It’s my job to keep them grounded.”

Even as he strives to keep the 2010 Pirates down to earth, Godwin still enjoys talking about the talent, the depth on this team. He might not spend much time telling the players, but he can tell that they’re shaping up into a special group with the potential to top their Super Regional appearance last season.

After a long and taxing offseason, the Pirates are finally on the downhill slide to their opening game on Feb. 19 against Virginia. And as excited as the players are to test the consensus opinion that they can be national contenders, their coach might be the most eager one in the clubhouse.

“I think we are riding a little wave of momentum, but I caution our team that this is a new team and we have to establish a new identity,” Godwin said. “When the calendar rolls to January and guys come back, they’re anxious to get started.

"No one’s more anxious than I am. This is 24 years I’ve been in coaching, and I still feel like I’m six years old waiting for opening day.”

One advantage that Godwin admits could be a difference-maker for the Pirates is the depth of their pitching staff. As he considers his options for a starting rotation, he still has eight pitchers who could earn a spot, and the ones that don’t will be a boon to the bullpen.

If Godwin had to assemble a starting staff for a weekend series right now, it would feature Seth Maness, Kevin Brandt and Brad Mincey, but he expects players like Sthil Sowers, Zach Woods and Joseph Hughes to make legitimate bids for starting spots in the preseason.

“It’s probably the deepest pitching staff I’ve had in the five years I’ve been here,” Godwin said.

Maness, the preseason Conference USA Pitcher of the Year, said that ECU has the kind of pitching experience to address any type of matchup. Knowing that he is part of such a stable staff helps fuel Maness’s belief that his team can reach new heights as he tackles his personal goal of collecting 10 wins.

But as important as the pitching will be to the Pirates’ postseason hopes, nothing energized them as much as the decisions Kyle Roller and Devin Harris made to forego the major leagues and come back to ECU.

Harris was drafted in the eighth round by the Baltimore Orioles, but as negotiations dragged on he felt drawn back to play another collegiate season. Roller was taken by the Oakland Athletics in the 47th round, but his stock rose when he suited up for the Bourne Braves in the Cape Cod Baseball League this summer.

Roller turned heads in the prestigious Cape Cod League, hitting .342 with 10 home runs and 33 RBI's and ending the season as the Cape Cod League MVP. Godwin kept tabs on his success and wondered if Roller might reconsider the big leagues. But when they talked, Roller put his mind at ease.

“When Kyle Roller started throwing up those numbers in the Cape, I was concerned, but Kyle was very clear. He wanted to come back here and be an instrumental part of helping our program get to Omaha,” Godwin said.

After an intense summer, Godwin offered Roller the chance to take some time off during fall workouts. Roller declined.

“Things were going so good, I hated to stop,” Roller said. “I really didn’t want any time off. I just wanted to keep going at it.”

Remembering their miraculous NCAA Regional victory over South Carolina last June, the Pirates are jumping into the preseason with the feeling that they can beat anybody and reach any height this season, said shortstop Dustin Harrington. But he believes that because of what he sees before him, not because of media reports.

“We feel we have a lot of talent and a lot of heart, and that’s what’s going to get you there,” Harrington said.

E-mail Bethany Bradsher

Bethany Bradsher Archives

01/28/2010 02:11 AM

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