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Observations and Punditry

Woody's Ramblings
Wednesday, February 17, 2010

By Woody Peele

All-star hurlers anchor Pirates

By Woody Peele
All rights reserved.

East Carolina’s 2010 baseball team looks as if it could be one of the school's best ever — on paper.

Coach Billy Godwin, entering his fifth season as the helmsman of the Pirates, issues a word of prudence.

“It does look that way,” he said. “We’ve got talent and experience, but I’ve cautioned our players that paper doesn’t win games.”

Nope, that has to be done on grass and dirt. Still this year’s team does have the look of another NCAA qualifier.

Topping the list of talented Pirates is the pitching staff. All three weekend starters return from last year led by two-time All-America righthander Seth Maness (9-3, 4.71 ERA).

The other two are Freshman All-America lefty Kevin Brandt (9-2, 3.64) and All-Conference USA righty Brad Mincey (10-5, 3.16).

“We have experience back,” Godwin said. “Last year, we had 18 wins (from the pitching staff) back from the previous season. This year, I believe it’s 37 wins. These guys have been there and had success at this level.

“Every year I press them to press forward. We can’t have setbacks. They need to be as good, if not better and we need guys to emerge.”

Maness echoed that.

"I think we’re going to be as good," Maness said. "We have a lot of experience out there and a lot of the new guys are coming in and looking good. It’s just a matter of putting it all together at the right time.”

He’s also looking to improve.

“I was really disappointed (last year) when I lost the last two games,” Maness said. “I’ve been working hard in the weight room to improve and be stronger.”

Godwin also likes the depth the staff is showing.

“That’s the key,” Godwin said. “I won’t say that we’ll roll out a first rounder (in the draft) but we will roll out some high quality arms. We have eight to 10 guys who can give us a good outing.”

The coach also likes what he sees for the weekends, but notes that it can change, pointing out that both Brandt and Mincey saw midweek duty at times.

“You know we have a 9-game winner, a 9-game winner and a 10-game winner out there. That makes you feel good,” Godwin said.

Among those who have looked good thus far in practice are Mike Wright (1-2, 7.66), who beat South Carolina in last year’s regionals; Mike Anderson (1-1, 5.86), who has moved to the bullpen and seems more comfortable there; and newcomers Joseph Hughes, Tyler Joyner and Jake Harris.

While the coach appears comfortable with the hurlers, he admits that the loss of last year’s leaders at the plate concerns him, despite the return of several proven bats.

Gone from last year’s team are four .300 hitters: Ryan Wood (.379), Stephen Batts (.352), Brandon Henderson (.330) and Drew Schieber (.311).

Returning is Trent Whitehead (.378, 7 HR, 47 RBI), who ranked fourth in the nation in total hits; Austin Homan (wearing the late coach Keith LeClair’s No. 23), who hit .354 with 19 RBI; Devin Harris (.344, 14 HR, 48 RBI); Cape Cod League all-star and MVP Kyle Roller (.336, 16 HR, 75 RBI); Jared Avchen (.330, 2 HR, 29 RBI); and David Harrington (.318, 14 HR, 49 RBI).

“I don’t think we’ll miss much,” Whitehead said. “We still have talent that has hit ever since they’ve been here. I think we’ll be fine.

“We’ll still have some pop, but we’ll drive the ball in the gaps more and cut down on the strikeouts and we still have people who can hit it out.”

Godwin believes the players replacing those four hitters are talented but not quite as proven.

“Having guys like Trent, Kyle, Harrington, Harris and Avchen makes you sleep better," Godwin said. "What we don’t know yet is who will emerge in those four spots.”

Cameron Freeman (.261, 1 HR, 3 RBI) has improved as much as anyone, Godwin noted. “Corey Thompson (1 HR, 3 RBI) appears more poised," he said, adding that he likes newcomers John Wooten and Bryan Bass.

When the Pirates are in the field, Godwin feels good, but he doesn’t want to mention the I-word. The middle infield is somewhat thin, so he’s hopeful that players will stay healthy.

“The lack of depth there and behind the plate worries me some,” Godwin said. “We’ve addressed that in our next recruiting class, but that isn’t helping us this year. But I’ve been in this game long enough to know what I think and what happens when you turn the scoreboard on are two different things.”

The tentative starting lineup has Avchen behind the plate, Wooten at first, Freeman at second, Harrington at short and Thompson at third. Homan, Whitehead and Harris will handle the outfield, left to right, and Roller will be the designated hitter.

The Pirates will be facing one of their toughest schedules ever. They open the season Friday through Sunday at Clark-LeClair Stadium against No. 2 ranked Virginia, a member of the final eight at Omaha last year.

“Every year we talk about how difficult the schedule is,” Godwin said. “Last year’s was, but we’ve played a tough schedule over the years. But we like to beef it up and we want to play people who have the same goal that we do — to play in Omaha.

“You can’t predict how we’ll do against them, but I just ask our guys to go out there and match up and play toe-to-toe with them. Great challenges create great opportunities.”

Even the conference schedule isn’t easy. Among road trips are those to always favored Rice and last year’s College World Series participant Southern Miss.

“I don’t care where you play Rice,” Godwin said with a laugh. “You could play them in your own back yard and that would still be tough. Southern Miss has a great environment and fans, just like we do. Our league is an elite baseball league in the national spotlight.

“We may not be a BCS (football) league, but we would be in baseball if there were such a thing.”

Godwin said the entire league is improved and is led by great coaches, making it tougher every year.

Can the Pirates win 40 games again? Godwin said that number seems to be less of a measuring stick each year, thanks to RPI rankings.

“That’s why we try to play the best,” he said. “Even the weaker teams we play are in the top of their conferences. We play good people. Win the games we play and that takes care of itself.”

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02/17/2010 01:22:07 AM

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