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Observations and Punditry

Woody's Ramblings
Monday, February 16, 2009

By Woody Peele

Pirates primed to challenge Rice

By Woody Peele
All rights reserved.

The number four has a great significance to the 2009 East Carolina baseball team as it prepares to open the season Friday against Monmouth.

“Last year, we were four wins away from making it to Omaha,” fourth-year coach Billy Godwin said. “This year, those four more wins are our goal.”

And Godwin believes – as do the Pirates – that Omaha is a legitimate goal this season.

Led by one of the top young pitchers in the country in Seth Maness, and enough returning and new players, “this team believes in its heart that we will play in Rosenblatt Stadium this year,” Godwin said.
“We are on a mission, and we’re in a great league. It’s been proven that if you can win Conference USA, you can make it to Omaha.”

Picked to finish second in C-USA this season, Godwin smiled and said, “That’s one spot too low.”

But beating out favorite Rice, among others, will be a tough task. Having the Owls in Greenville (April 10-12) might make things a little easier.

“Our fans will be exceptionally excited,” said Maness, who has earned a number of pre-season All America honors. “It will be a great atmosphere and help us step our game up to another level.”

“Rice has earned the right to be the favorite,” Godwin said. “The road to Omaha leads through Rice.”

Godwin sees the 2009 Pirate team as having a great deal of depth, a mixture of experience and youth.

“I’m as excited about this team as any I’ve ever had,” he said.

Maness, who went 9-2 with a 3.57 earned run average, will be the No. 1 hurler, taking the Friday night spot in the rotation. Last season’s C-USA Freshman of the Year admits that he feels a good deal more pressure entering his sophomore season.

“I’ve got a lot to live up to,” Maness said. “So I want to do better this year. I just hope the pressure turns into motivation.”

Behind the flashy soph, Godwin has pretty well settled on his next three, although he’s still not fully set on their order. Chris Hester, a junior transfer from Seminole College in Florida, is the likely Saturday starter.

Sunday’s starter is a battle between sophomore Sthil Sowers (4-4, 4.66) and Mike Anderson, a red-shirt sophomore (1-1, 3.00 as freshman).

“Our pitching is young, but it could be our strength,” Godwin pointed out.

“(They) have the ability to beat any team on any given day,” Maness said of his starting teammates on the mound. "They’ve really looked good this spring and I have a lot of confidence in them.”

Turning to the men behind the pitching staff, Godwin believes he has the makings of a good defensive unit.

“Our entire infield is back, so I think we have a chance to be really good on defense," Godwin said.

Likewise, Godwin is high on the prospects for offense.

“We had seven hitters who hit .300 or better last season," he said. "You have to feel good about that.” (The hot hitters' club: Brandon Henderson .347; Stephen Batts .333; Dustin Harrington .320; Drew Schieber .319, Ryan Wood .306; Kyle Roller .299; and Jared Avchen .320 at Seminole College).

Godwin also likes the team speed.

“We’ve got as much as we’ve had since I’ve been here,” he said. “We can attack a lot of people in a lot of different ways.”

Power could be a question mark, despite the fact that last year’s squad hit the second most homers in school history.

“It’s hard to project,” the coach said. “Our veterans have to come back and be veterans.”

Maness agrees with his head coach.

“Our defense is going to be good and our offense even better,” he said. “The competition at every position has been great.”

No. 23

The number 23, worn by the late Keith LeClair, who was the head coach at ECU from 1997 to 2002, has become a symbolic treasure for the Pirate baseball team. LeClair, during his brief tenure before he was struck down by ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), showed great leadership, compassion and courage before his death in 2006.

Since 2003, the jersey, rather than being retired, has been passed to a player deemed to hold up the tradition and characteristics displayed by LeClair.

This past Saturday, Brandon Henderson, a senior first baseman from Alpharetta, GA, was chosen to wear No. 23 for the 2009 season, the seventh Pirate to be given the honor.

“We want (No. 23) to be as important 20 years from now as it is now, when some of the players knew him," Godwin said.

Last year’s winner Drew Schieber presented the jersey to Henderson.

“It’s a great honor,” Henderson said. “It’s the best that I’ve ever received, to be in the group who have already worn it, and with Coach LeClair.

“Our one goal is Omaha,” he continued, “and if we make it, I know he’ll be up there cheering us on.”

Henderson said he feels that wearing the jersey carries a responsibility to lead on and off the field, especially with the young players.

“I want to set an example so that they’ll know that they have a chance to wear No. 23," he said.

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02/16/2009 01:32:16 AM

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