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East Carolina Hall of Famer and
former baseball coach Keith LeClair.
 (Photo: ECU Media Relations)

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Editor's note: This feature
coordinated by Denny O'Brien.


From The Dugout

By Keith LeClair

Full count, with 'Condo' and Mazey

It seems like yesterday when the Marlins shocked the world and won the 2003 World Series, but in less than a week East Carolina's 2004 quest to reach Omaha begins.

The preseason polls have once again snubbed the Pirates, both in Conference USA and nationally. The Pirates come into C-USA picked fifth this year and not even ranked in the national Top 40, despite landing in the NCAA regionals the last five years.

With the majority of the offense back from last year's club, the question that will have to be addressed is basically a new pitching staff. Coach Randy Mazey and his staff have brought in a quality number of newcomers on the mound and they will have to step in and contribute right away. This may be the Pirates' biggest challenge and I had an opportunity to ask Coach Mazey some questions about this upcoming season and this is what he had to say.

I hope you all enjoy and I will see you at the ballpark Friday at 3:00 o'clock sharp. Let's try and break the opening game attendance mark with a packed Harrington Field. I'll be disappointed if I don't see smoke rolling out of the 'Jungle'. Oh, by the way, we have a new scoreboard that looks awesome and actually works, so no more flip down scores needed from the 'Jungle Maniacs.'

'Condo' Q & A with Randy Mazey

Condo: After coming off your first season as a head coach in Conference USA, what was your impression of the league compared to others you have coached in?

Mazey: There are some similarities in Conference USA and the SEC and the ACC as far as the top 4 or 5 teams. However, the SEC is loaded with good teams from top to bottom without exception. Kentucky and Vanderbilt, the 2 SEC teams who are usually at the bottom of the league every year, I really believe would do very well in C-USA. The league is just loaded with talent. The ACC has added some much needed depth in the past 15 years with the additions of Florida State, Miami, and Virginia Tech.

The similarity between C-USA and the ACC is that anytime in baseball you have a conference that has some northern teams and some southern teams, there is going to be an imbalance from the top teams to the bottom teams. You don't have that in the SEC.

Condo: I never cared much for preseason polls, but don't you feel East Carolina has not gotten the national recognition it deserves?

Mazey: Definitely. You would think based on the success we've had the last 5 years alone that we would be deserving of some spot in one of the polls. I think we've proven our success here with the ability to compete at a very high level year in and year out. Some of the teams who are ranked ahead of us are not the same caliber as we are. One poll does not even list us in the top 56 in the nation. The preseason polls, like most things, are very political. The poll at the end of the season is the one that matters.

Condo: Why is this and does being picked fifth in the league preseason polls give the team a little added motivation?

Mazey: I think it does. Our guys play with a lot of confidence and feel like they can beat anybody, and for someone to tell them that they are not that good is a slap in the face to them. But it's a good slap in the face.

Condo: With only nine returning wins from last year's staff and a host of talented newcomers, does this present your biggest challenge in determining roles early in the season?

Mazey: There is no question. We lost the majority of our staff from last year's team and have brought in some very quality pitchers. However, it is not very often that a newcomer to a program at this level steps in and dominates no matter how talented he is. It takes some time to learn how to win at this level. This group of pitchers is going to be very special eventually, but someone has to step up and be the guy who can win a lot of games in his first year.

Condo: Which guys do you expect to step in and help the team immediately on the mound?

Mazey: I think the addition of Brody Taylor at the semester break will really help us, and we've got a tremendous amount of talent in the freshman class. Ricky Brooks, Shane Mathews, Mike Flye, Brett Braxton, and Chris Powell are all right-handers that we feel are going to win a lot of games in their careers here, and Dustin Sasser and John Emmert will be the same from the left side.

Condo: Matt Bishop went down with Tommy John surgery early last season and freshman Jason Neitz went down with a sore arm. Will those guys be ready for the start of the season?

Mazey: I think they will be ready to pitch, but not pitch too effectively yet. We are going to work both of those guys back in slowly. We need them more in April, May, and June than we do in January and February.

Condo: With so many new guys on staff, can we expect to see a lot of guys getting innings early in the season?

Mazey: You sure can. With so much talent, the toughest thing is going to be finding the right mix of starters, long relievers, and short relievers. We will probably pitch most of our guys early and see who is going to rise to the top.

Condo: Will Greg Bunn come out of his closing role into the rotation this year and if so who on the staff could we look to close games?

Mazey: We are going to (look to) Greg to start the season and see how he does. He has unbelievable talent and we are trying to maximize how much we use him. However, he could always go back to a closing role if three guys step up and show that they can be effective starters. Matt Bishop is also a candidate to be a closer when he returns. He has the bulldog mentality that you need in that position, he throws strikes, and comes right at you. Hopefully that situation will resolve itself.

Condo: Last year you returned a lot of seniors on the mound and had very few senior position players resulting in a lot of different lineups. Will it be easier to define lineups and roles with so many returning position players?

Mazey: You would think so, but it's not. We are having a pretty good problem right now because guys that we didn't count on to be starters have been swinging the bats pretty well. The biggest decision will be a the DH spot. Drew Costanzo should hit in the middle of the lineup for us, but Mike Harrington, Mike Grace, and Adam Witter could all be very effective DH's as well. The problem is, you can only play one at a time.

Condo: With a relatively young pitching staff, how important is it to get off to a good offensive start?

Mazey: Very important. With any freshman, especially a pitcher, confidence is the key to success. If they know they can go out and challenge people, they may give up a few runs, but it will help their mentality in the long run. However, if they do that, they need to know that we are still going to win games if they pitch like that, so run support is going to be essential for them to be effective.

Condo: What will the keys be for this group to have an outstanding offensive season?

Mazey: Obviously, in the past, Darryl Lawhorn was the guy who made this team click offensively, but I think the key to this team is that if Darryl has an off day offensively, we have enough good hitters around him now that we can still score a lot of runs. We are going to be a tough team for an opposing pitcher to pitch to throughout the lineup, with Jamie Paige, Ryan Jones, Darryl and Trevor Lawhorn, Ryan Norwood, Costanzo, Jake Smith, and Mark Minicozzi. Any one of those guys can hurt you at any time.

Condo: Tell us about the defensive side of the ball and what changes will be different from last year, especially at short, where Daryl Lawhorn ended the season, and second, where Kevin O'Sullivan graduated.

Mazey: Our shortstop this year will be a junior college transfer from California named Billy Richardson. Billy has great hands and makes some great plays, and we should be a lot better at shortstop this year. He can also run and should steal 20 or so bases this year. Right now it looks like Trevor Lawhorn will start the season at second base, and like Billy, Trevor makes some highlight reel plays. If Trevor can find a way to stay consistent offensively, he will be a good player for us.

Condo: The toughest question for a coach, what does this years team have to do in order to be an Omaha caliber type team?

Mazey: If you look at the teams every year that make the College World Series, they can all hit from top to bottom. I think we could be one of those teams. If we could just find 5 or 6 pitchers that could be consistent and keep us in games, I think that will determine how far this team could go.

Condo: Do you think moving the college season back three weeks would help college baseball or hurt it?

Mazey: I have always been a big proponent of playing college baseball in the summertime. I think it really hurts college baseball in general that we play so early when it is so cold. We currently have a sport that is literally unfair for the northern half of the country. As long as we play when we do, the high school talent from the northern states will continue to go south to play college baseball, therefore creating that imbalance.

I would love to see us start playing at the end of our exams in May, play throughout the summertime, and play the World Series in early August, before school starts. There are so many advantages to doing that, and very few disadvantages. I don't know if we will ever get to that point, but I think that is what's best for the game.

Condo: Break down C-USA for us this year and who we should look to see at the top when the season ends?

Mazey: Well, I think we'd all love to see ECU on top when the season ends. The other teams that are going to be tough this year are Tulane, who is ranked 10th in one preseason poll, Southern Miss, Houston, who brought in some outstanding freshman arms. TCU returns the pitcher of the year in the conference and has some other very good arms, and South Florida returns the middle of their lineup, which was very good last year. It's gonna be a battle, but I like our chances.

If you have a question or comment about the Pirates in particular or baseball in general, fire your best pitch at Ol' Condo: Sound off to Coach LeClair...

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02.23.07 10:27 AM


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