New East Carolina baseball coach Randy Mazey has a simple
theme for the upcoming season. It’s “We’re goin'."
That’s as in, we’re going to Omaha for the College World
Mazey has said, in the manner of his predecessor Keith
LeClair, that believing is the first step in the journey.
The Pirates embarked on that trip when they began preseason
practice on Tuesday with little cooperation from Mother Nature. The
temperature was in the mid-30s, but the Pirates went through almost three
hours of preparation for the 2003 season.
ECU will be playing for its fifth straight trip to the NCAA
“We’ve been very busy,” said Mazey, who took over in July as
LeClair stepped aside for health reasons relating to his battle with
amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
“The last two months though seems like it’s taken six months
to transpire because it is our slow time, but we’re just getting back into
it now," said Mazey. "We had a great recruiting class this past fall. The
assistants did a great job of bringing these guys in.
“We signed nine guys, eight of ’em pitchers because we’ve
got to replace some of our pitchers this year. I’m very excited.”
Mazey isn’t counting on all of the signees arriving next
year because the baseball draft might keep some of them from joining the
Pirates program. He’s already had his eyes opened in fall practice by an
unexpected degree of hitting.
“I came in thinking that the pitching staff was the strength
of this team but in the fall the hitters beat the pitchers. It’s going to be
interesting to see how these guys come out this spring,” he said.
The first game is Feb. 14, at home against Western Carolina,
which means the Pirates have just over three weeks of preseason practice.
Mazey said getting the pitchers ready would be the primary
“Getting their pitch counts up is the main thing,” Mazey
said. “The position players — once you’ve practiced for about three weeks,
you’re ready to see some outside competition. Our guys have really worked
hard over the offseason, hitting in the cages, taking ground balls. Our guys
are as dedicated to being successful as any team I’ve been on so we’re not
worried about getting them motivated. I think three weeks of practice is
going to be plenty.”
Darryl Lawhorn, a freshman All-American in 2002 and MVP of
the Conference USA Tournament which the Pirates won in Kinston, has been
working at third base after playing first last season.
“He’s been taking some ground balls at third base,” Mazey
said. “We’re going to try him over there and see how he does. He’s a very
talented kid and he’s a gamer so we think he’s going to be able to make that
transition pretty well.”
Lawhorn’s twin brother, Trevor, has transferred to ECU from
Barton but must sit out this year.
Mazey’s arrival has meant opportunity for many players.
“Coming into a new program, the guys who have been back-ups
in the past see that as an opportunity to show some people what they can do.
We had some guys this fall who really showed that they can play who haven’t
played in the past. So the majority of the spots are wide open. It’s very
competitive out here.”
As far as the pitching staff is concerned the outlook is a
little more stable.
“We’ve got four seniors who we feel like are going to pitch
the majority of our innings — Davey Penny, Will Brinson, Neal Sears and
Glenn Tucker,” Mazey said. “Those guys, between the four of ’em, are
hopefully going to throw a lot of innings as long as they stay healthy.
We’re going to keep ’em well rested because we’ve got some depth behind
them. But those are all established guys. They’ve been around the block and
they’ve been successful so we’ve got some senior leadership there.
“If you look at most championship teams, most teams in the
World Series, they’re an experienced, senior-laden team and that’s what
we’ve got at that position. If you’ve got experience at any position, that’s
the position to have it. We feel good about our staff.”
The Pirates should have some power, based on what Mazey saw
in fall practice.
“We really think right now that we can put four or five guys
in the middle of the lineup who are capable of hitting the ball out of the
ball park,” Mazey said. “We don’t have a whole lot of team speed... . I like
speed and I like to manufacture runs but we’re not going to run into outs
when we’ve got guys at the plate who are capable of hitting the ball out of
the park. I think that’s the type of club we’re going to be.
“The top and the bottom of the lineup, we might have to move
some guys to make some things happen, but when those big guys are standing
in the box we’re not going to try and make any outs in front of them when
they can score two or three runs with one swing of the bat.”
Jason Tourangeau led the team in home runs in the fall but
the senior has pitched previously in his career at ECU and has never had an
at-bat for the Pirates.
One goal is top find someone to hit behind Lawhorn and keep
opponents from pitching around him. John Henry Kail, a transfer from Georgia
Tech, is a power hitter. Ryan Norwood can go deep, as can Mike Harrington.
Among newcomers, Mike DeJesus is regarded as a solid hitting
second baseman. Freshman Mike Grace is a power hitter who may redshirt
because of an arm injury.
“Don’t expect to see any Darryl Lawhorns out of this group
just yet,” Mazey said. “They’re all just freshmen so they may have to wait
A lot of people are familiar with Nate Logan, the son of
former ECU football coach Steve Logan, who joins the Pirates after a
prolific career at Greenville Rose. He is projected as a left-handed pitcher
for the Pirates.
“Nate can throw strikes; he’s not overpowering,” Mazey said.
“Nate at some point is going to get an opportunity to see if he can get
college hitters out. With a guy like that when you watch him in the bullpen
and he doesn’t have overpowering stuff, you just don’t know what he’s
capable of doing until he does get in a game situation and see how he
“He’s young. He’s a freshman and we’ve got all of those
experienced pitchers so we’re going to pick his spots and just give him an
opportunity to be successful.”
Mazey said the schedule is tough.
“I think we play the top four or five teams all on the road
in Conference USA,” he said. “We open at Houston and finish at Tulane, so we
have the two toughest teams on the road as the bookends. In between that we
travel to Louisville and South Florida so we’ve got some tough games on the
The non-conference schedule includes Central Florida, Duke,
N.C. State and North Carolina.
“We don’t get a break but that’s the way we like it,” Mazey
said. “We’re going to challenge ourselves and play the best people out
Mazey stays in regular contact with LeClair, one of his best
friends who brought him to ECU as an assistant in 1998. Mazey then spent
four years on the staff at Tennessee.
“Keith is mentally, emotionally and spiritually as good as
he’s ever been,” Mazey said. “I think he’s stronger than he’s ever been.
Physically, of course, the ALS has taken its toll on him but we get some
encouragement medically. He’s had some things done and we’re encouraged that
some good things may happen. Nobody’s giving up and his spirits are good.
He’s got a lot of well-wishers out there. Every time I see him he says to be
sure to tell everybody hello and he’s thinking about ’em.
“He’s just as big a part of this program as he’s always
been. I go over there every night and tell him what happened in the
intrasquads, tell him about all the guys and he tells me who to pinch hit
and who to start so he’s very involved in the program still, even if he
can’t be out here every day like he once could.”
The funding is in place to build a new $7.5 million baseball
stadium at the site where LeClair has taken ECU to national prominence.
Construction is scheduled to start after the 2004 season. It’s already in
use as a recruiting tool.
“We’re recruiting off of a drawing right now, an artist’s
rendering, which is better than nothing, but it’s not like having the real
thing either,” Mazey said. “It’s going to be a beautiful facility. It’s
going to be one of the top three or four in the nation and we’re real
excited about it. We’ve got to be patient. It’s going to be a little while
“ ... I wish I could wake up tomorrow morning and walk in
that stadium but we’ve got to be patient. Once it gets here, it’s going to
be something special.”
The field will remain in its present configuration although
the original plans called for home plate to be in the area that is currently
left field. That will allow the preservation of the area beyond the outfield
known as “The Jungle.”
Mazey is fine with that.
“I don’t think the sun is that big of a problem here,” he
said. “We’ve got a great tradition in ‘The Jungle’ out there in left field.
The sun sets over there (pointing past third base into foul territory from
the first base side) in that corner right there. It doesn’t affect the
hitters. It really doesn’t affect the outfielders playing a ball off the
bat. Those are the two groups you’re worried about.
“It’s not that big a deal. The trees in the jungle are high
enough to shade the sun from the outfielder’s eyes. The only problem is the
first baseman taking a throw from the third baseman but it’s hard to have a
field where nobody’s affected, so I don’t have a problem at all with this
thing right where it’s at.”
The season can’t get here fast enough for ECU’s new head
“I’m anxious to see how this team responds,” he said. “I’ve
been in the SEC the last four years and that’s the best talent in the
country. so I’m kind of anxious to see day in and day out what Conference
USA is all about and how we stack up in this league. The first two weekends
are going to be a good barometer for us — Western Carolina for three games
and Central Florida for three games. If we can come out of those two
weekends looking pretty good then I think we’ll have something to build on.”