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Observations and Punditry

Woody's Ramblings
Thursday, February 21, 2008

By Woody Peele

Bucs count on depth, power

By Woody Peele
All rights reserved.

On the eve of opening the 2008 East Carolina baseball season, Pirate coach Billy Godwin had a chance to look back over his first two years and compare it to this season.

“The guys are more accustomed to what I expect and what I want,” he said. “They know how we do things within our system. Too, I’ve got a lot of players who have been here for us and have proven themselves to be successful.”

East Carolina will open the year on the road, playing a three-game series at South Carolina starting Friday at 3 p.m. After a visit to Elon next Wednesday, East Carolina opens its Clark-LeClair Stadium schedule against Monmouth on Friday, Feb. 29, starting another three-game weekend series.

“It’s a tough opener,” Godwin said of challenging the Gamecocks on their home turf, “but I feel good about it. It’s a tremendous challenge and we have a lot of respect for them. They’ve been to super regionals eight of the last nine years.

“But we’re going down there with the attitude of competing from the first pitch to the last.”

Two of Godwin's star players, pitcher T.J. Hose and centerfielder Harrison Eldridge, concurred.

“We have high expectations,” Hose said. “We’ll have to take it one game at a time, win on Friday (when Hose pitches) and go from there.”

“It definitely will be a huge test,” Eldridge added, “but we’re looking forward to it.”

Godwin believes the Pirates are blessed with perhaps the best depth they’ve had in years, especially when it comes to position play.

“One thing we did in preseason was to work guys in multiple positions,” Godwin said. “Versatility should be a strength.”

At the plate, the same assessment applies.

“I believe we’re 14 deep offensively,” the coach said. “We’re going to have four or five guys who deserve to play (who won’t be in the starting lineup) come Friday, but they’re going to get their opportunity.”

“We don’t have one or two guys we’re going to have to count on this year,” Eldridge said. “We have depth beyond belief and I think the entire lineup is capable of hitting it out of the park at any time.”

Godwin said that every coach wants talent and the Pirates have it in players like (catcher) Corey Kemp (.267, 5 HR, 41 RBI), Stephen Batts (.323, 6 HR, 56 RBI); Ryan Wood (.318, 5 HR, 23 RBI); Drew Schieber (.301, 6 HR, 22 RBI); Eldridge (.295, 6 HR, 28 RBI); and Jamie Raye (.306, 2 HR, 22 RBI).

Then, on the mound, Hose (3.97 ERA, 6-5, 70 K) leads the pack. He’s expected to get help from Josh Ruhlman (6.14 ERA, 5-1, 26K), Bailey Daniels (4.53 ERA, 4-1, 61 K).

The Pirates went after a lot of pitchers in the off-season for a couple of reasons — to bolster the staff’s starters, the bullpen, and to help with the heavier in-week schedule, two games instead of one most times.

“If we have any uncertainty, it’s in the new guys we’ve brought in,” Godwin said. “They’re very talented, but they have to gain experience and maturity.”

One freshman, Seth Maness, will be given the ball to start Saturday’s game against the Gamecocks, while Justin Bristow, a transfer from Auburn who will also see action at third base, is scheduled for Saturday. Another transfer, from North Carolina, Matt Cox, could become another starter.

Daniel Holder, a junior college transfer; and freshmen Sthil Sowers (North Lenoir), Matt Laney, Seth Simmons and Brad Mincey all should see a lot of action.

While Shane Matthews turned in 15 saves last season, among the best in the nation, Godwin is looking for a new closer and some new long relief pitchers. Holder could fit into the latter job.

“We’ve got a lot of people we can count on (with experience) in the bull pen,” Hose said. “I don’t know how the young guys are going to do (in early games), but I think after the first couple of weeks, they should be fine.”

Hose said he’s been trying to be a leader on the mound, showing the newcomers things without even having to talk about it.

“Just by going out there and pitching and how I go about my business,” he said. “And I go to them with open arms since I’ve been out there, done that.”

The Pirates enter the season ranked 24th by Baseball America. Usually coaches dismiss preseason rankings, noting that it’s where you rank at the end of the season that’s important.

But Godwin is proud that his team is getting recognition, even while admitting that the Pirates must now go out and prove they belong there.

“It shows that we’ve been successful and we have good people back,” he said. “It’s great for our university and great for our program. But once the first pitch is thrown, it’s not going to help us one bit. We certainly won’t be able to rest on our laurels or spend time licking our wounds.”

As to a projected second-place finish in Conference USA, one of the nation’s toughest baseball leagues, Godwin feels good about the challenge of pushing two-time champ Rice for the title.

“Both of us (Rice and ECU) lost guys, but good programs don’t rebuild, they reload,” he said. “While Rice has pretty well dominated the league since coming in two years ago, we’ve competed with them, so I like our chances.

“But right now, they are the carrot and the rest of the league is chasing them.”

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02/28/2008 12:52:22 AM

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