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College Sports in the Carolinas
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View from the East
Thursday, October 10, 2002

By Al Myatt
ECU Beat Writer for The News & Observer

Bats emerging in baseball program noted for pitching

©2002 Bonesville.net

The 2002 East Carolina baseball team was among those recognized at halftime of the Army-ECU football game last Saturday. The baseball program won ECU’s first Conference USA team championship by defeating nationally-ranked Houston in the league tournament championship in Kinston last May.

The Pirates finished fall preparations for the 2003 season on Sunday with the completion of an intra-squad world series. The team was divided into a gold unit coached by ECU assistant Tommy Eason and a purple group coached by assistant Allen Osborne, who joined the staff of new head coach Randy Mazey after three seasons as an assistant at Georgia.

“I wore gray,” Mazey said. “I was neutral.”

The gold team swept three nine-inning games on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. That earned them a steak and potatoes meal served by the purple unit at the home of former coach Keith LeClair on Tuesday night. The purple team got hamburgers and hot dogs after losing 3-0 on Friday and 9-7 on Saturday.

Davey Penny started the shutout and went “five or six innings,” according to Mazey. The hurlers were on a 70-pitch limit. Will Brinson started on Friday for the purple team. Jason Neitz, a freshman left-hander from Mufflinburg, Pa., helped complete the shutout on Friday.

Trevor Lawhorn, the twin brother of Darryl Lawhorn, the C-USA Tournament MVP, hit three home runs for the gold team in the weekend series and outfielder Ryan Jones hit two. Trevor Lawhorn has transferred to ECU after playing at Barton College last spring. Mazey said he will have to sit out the upcoming season.

The gold team scored three runs in the ninth inning on Saturday in a winning rally.

“It was 19-7 on Sunday,” Mazey said. “It got a little ugly.”

The run production characterized a surprising showing by the Pirates hitters.

“Overall, I think hitting beat the pitching in the fall,” said Mazey, an ECU assistant in 1998 who had spent four seasons on the Tennessee staff before returning as Pirates head coach after LeClair stepped down due to health considerations to become a special assistant to athletics director Mike Hamrick after last season.

Mazey said he didn’t expect as much offense as he witnessed in fall practice.

“Coming off last season, it was the exact opposite,” he said. “Pitching dominated last spring and that’s what I expected in the fall but the hitters took an aggressive approach and it showed. We showed power and we were aggressive offensively.

“Everybody did pretty well. There was a lot of intra-team competition. A lot of guys who didn’t contribute much in the past had good falls. It’s going to make for some tough decisions about who plays. I think my coming in gave some guys who hadn’t played in the past a new opportunity to present themselves.”

Jason Tourangeau, a pitcher thus far in his ECU career who is yet to have an at-bat in a game for the Pirates, showed power at the plate in the fall and will contend for playing time at first base. Mike Harrington, a junior who played at Greenville Rose High, also showed his long ball capability in the fall. Kevin O’Sullivan emerged as a contender at second base.

Mazey signed just one player after taking the ECU job, outfielder John Henry Kail, a transfer from Georgia Tech, who missed fall ball due to an undetermined illness. Kail sat out last season with the Yellow Jackets due to a broken foot. He lettered two years for Tech, hitting .296 with three homers in a reserve role.

“We scrambled pretty late trying to find some people,” Mazey said. “We were awfully particular because we didn’t want to affect the chemistry of a close group. They’ve won championships together and they’ve obviously bonded together dealing with circumstances such as Coach LeClair’s situation.”

The 2003 schedule was announced this week and features home and home matchups with N.C. State, North Carolina and Duke in addition to the demands of the C-USA schedule. The Pirates open at home at 3 p.m. on Feb. 14 against Western Carolina. The Pirates host the Wolfpack on Wednesday, Feb. 19 at 5 p.m. The Tar Heels play in Greenville at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, April 16.

There also are non-conference home and home matchups with Elon, N.C. A&T and UNC Wilmington. Preseason practice starts in late January.

“The schedule is demanding,” Mazey said. “But I think we have enough depth to be competitive with it.”

The starting pitching rotation will feature some experienced seniors including Penny, Brinson, Neal Sears and Glenn Tucker, all right-handers.

“Nobody really stepped up to take the role of Friday starter that Sam Narron vacated,” Mazey said.

The bullpen will be determined after the starting rotation is established, Mazey said.

The defensive skills of catcher John Poppert have impressed ECU’s new head coach.

“With his arm he is capable of single-handedly controlling the running game and he has a chance to hit some home runs,” Mazey said. “He has as good an arm as I’ve seen in college baseball.”

Freshmen Jake Smith and Mike Grace as well as sophomore Adam Witter give the Pirates depth behind the plate.

“All of them do some things well,” Mazey said.

Tourangeau, Ryan Norwood and Harrington are in the picture at first base with Darryl Lawhorn likely moving from first, where he played last season, to third base.

“Darryl is so versatile,” Mazey said. “He could play shortstop, second base or the outfield. He can pitch and I wouldn’t be surprised if he could catch.”

O’Sullivan and freshman Mike DeJesus will contend for time at second base. Luke Cherry is back at short although he missed the ECU fall world series with an ankle injury. The outfield features good depth with Jones, Jamie Paige, Brian Cavanaugh and Ben Sanderson among the top personnel.

Jones, Paige and Cavanaugh are all left-handed hitters. Sanderson and Kail are right-handed hitters.

“We have some options there, right-handed and left-handed hitting wise,” Mazey said. “Kail has a chance to hit some homers but we haven’t seen what we have there.”

The Pirates will be seeking their fifth straight NCAA Tournament appearance, a level of performance that has spurred support for a new baseball stadium. The $6 million fund-raising effort is near completion.

It’s showcase time for major league baseball with the playoffs in progress and the World Series approaching. Although Mazey has been a San Francisco fan since Vida Blue was pitching for the Giants, he said he doesn’t follow the big leagues that closely.

“I really don’t watch it much,” said the Pirates coach. “It drives me crazy sometimes to watch the big leaguers. I like the college game for its hustle. With the big leaguers’ financial situation and the drug testing issue, I’d rather watch college kids. I’d rather watch 10-year olds having fun.”

Mazey enjoys spending time with LeClair. The former coach has a message board that allows him to look at a letter and spell out messages. His speech and mobility are limited by the effects of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease).

Mazey and LeClair spent Tuesday night flipping between the Louisville-Memphis college football game and the Angels-Twins American League playoff game.

“He (Keith) is doing good,” Mazey said. “It’s good to have a chance to talk with him.”

Mazey is continuing LeClair’s goal of getting ECU to the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska.

“The team attitude has been outstanding,” Mazey said. “We talk about the World Series in Omaha every day. That’s what our goals are and that’s half the battle right there — believing that you can go. So we’re going to play with a lot of confidence. I can’t wait to get the season started.”

Send an e-mail message to Al Myatt.

Click here to dig into Al Myatt's Bonesville archives.

02/23/2007 12:59:19 AM
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