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CHAPEL HILL — East
Carolina didn’t leave Chapel Hill with a ticket to Omaha. But the
Pirates at least received an indication as to what it will take to reach
the College World Series.
In North Carolina’s series
sweep of ECU in the NCAA Super Regional, the Tar Heels drew the Pirates
a clear roadmap to Omaha by demonstrating how dominant pitching can tame
dominant hitting, even when the aluminum bat is the weapon of choice.
Tar Heels starters Alex
White and Adam Warren kept the powerful ECU bats completely cool this
weekend with a mix of overpowering fastballs and deceptive off-speed
pitches. They had such great command that even their misses were either
whiffed at or swatted harmlessly into the ground.
“They rolled out two very
good arms,” senior first baseman Brandon Henderson said after North
9-3 victory Sunday. “We battled
and we hit the ball hard a few times, but we couldn’t get much to fall.
“It’s disappointing, but
you’ve got to give credit to them. They pitched their butts off. They’ve
got the pitching to go out to (Omaha) and play very well.”
White and Warren pitched
so well against the Pirates that you have to consider the Tar Heels a
favorite to take the title. Given ECU’s lack of run production this
weekend, you also have to consider the possibility that its offensive
numbers were inflated by Conference USA pitching.
And while the Tar Heels
entered the series with the supposed disadvantage at the plate, their
weekend explosion made it fairly clear that they faced better pitching
during the regular season than they did this weekend.
Before East Carolina can
make travel arrangements for Omaha, there is little question that it
must improve on the mound. That the Pirates return almost their entire
staff in 2010 is a good start, but there is definitely room for a few
“I think you fail before
you succeed sometimes,” Pirates coach Billy Godwin said. “We’ve got a
lot of our pitchers coming back. That’s one of the things that I’ve
tried to emphasize in my tenure at East Carolina is we’ve got to be able
to roll guys out there who can give us a shot.
“You see how important
(White and Warren) are for North Carolina. But I think that we’re
getting there. We have to keep grinding and keep putting a quality
product on the mound. That’s the next step.”
While the challenge for
ECU is simple to identify, solving it isn’t. Historically the state’s
elite pitchers choose the professional route over college. That leaves
East Carolina to battle with North Carolina and its other instate rivals
for the next tier of arms.
Currently that’s a battle
the Pirates are losing when you consider that Alex White and Adam Warren
were plucked from ECU’s own back yard. Until ECU can win some major
recruiting battles for the top available pitchers, it will be difficult
to supplant the Tar Heels as the state’s supreme program.
Doing so has become
increasingly important considering how the NCAA has configured the Field
of 64 the past three years. In each season, North Carolina was
positioned as an obstacle in the Pirates’ path to Omaha.
There is no question that
Godwin has advanced the program significantly from where it was when he
took over. The Pirates have made tangible improvement each of the past
four seasons, and it is reasonable to believe that Godwin can have them
in Omaha soon.
But to get there, ECU
might have to beat the Tar Heels, and do so at their own game. Given
Coach Mike Fox’s history for luring and developing standout pitching in
Chapel Hill, it’s unlikely the Pirates will get to Rosenblatt Stadium by
out-slugging the Heels or anyone else in their path.
It’s pretty clear that
pitching separates East Carolina from the College World Series.