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View from the East
Monday, June 2, 2003

By Al Myatt
ECU Beat Writer for The News & Observer

Rollercoaster season sets stage for return to fast track

©2003 Bonesville.net

At its best in the 2003 baseball season, East Carolina was good enough to beat the nation’s elite. At its worst, it was bedeviled by cold bats, shallow pitching or both.

The Pirates exemplified their upside by knocking off Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament champion Georgia Tech 10-3 to stave off elimination in the NCAA regional at Russ Chandler Stadium in Atlanta on Saturday. The Yellow Jackets were the No. 3 national seed for the NCAA event.

A pair of defeats sandwiched around that victory demonstrated the Pirates' vulnerabilities. ECU's offense was a no-show in a 4-0 loss to South Carolina in the regional opener and the Pirates simply ran out of effective pitching in a 9-4 season-ending loss to Stetson.

When the ingredients came together, ECU was as good as ever this season, but there was discernibly more variation in the team’s competitive level than in recent years.

The battle of former coach Keith LeClair with the effects of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis limited recruiting over the last two years and the depth of talent in the program took a hit as a result. The silver lining of the situation is that first-year coach Randy Mazey is a former LeClair assistant and has a reputation as a proven recruiter.

Mazey was on ECU’s staff in 1998 and recruited players such as Eric Bakich, Lee Delfino, Jason Mandryk, Nick Schnabel and Chad Tracy. The Pirates have even more to attract potential players now than in Mazey’s first stint in Greenville.

“In the last four or five years, expectations for the program have been raised,” said Mazey, who achieved win No. 100 as a college head coach against the Yellow Jackets. “The bar has been set high and that’s where we want it. A couple more recruiting classes, a new stadium coming and going to our fifth straight regional will help us meet those expectations.”

ECU is on an unprecedented roll in terms of postseason play. The Pirates’ most consecutive trips to the NCAA Tournament prior to the current streak was from 1989 to 1991 when ECU made three straight trips and produced a combined postseason record of 2-6 during that time.

From 1999 to present, the Pirates have a 10-10 record in postseason play. That includes ECU’s only regional championship in 2001 when the Pirates went 3-0 at Wilson’s Fleming Stadium with wins over Maryland-Baltimore County, South Florida and Winthrop.

Ironically, ECU advanced after that regional title to face Tennessee in a super regional in Kinston when Mazey was as an assistant for the Volunteers.

ECU’s senior class has had one of the most successful tenures in school history, rivaled only perhaps by the early 1960s era which produced NAIA powerhouses that included a national title in 1961.

“These seniors who have been here four years have a lot to be proud of,” Mazey said. “They’ve laid the foundation for the future of the program. They’ve provided great leadership throughout the season. Every time this program has faced adversity the seniors have brought the team closer together.”

ECU’s seniors have been through a unique maturation process. LeClair’s situation and courage have provided a rare glimpse into a triumph of human spirit.

“I know I’m a better person for having Coach LeClair and for knowing Coach LeClair,” said senior pitcher Will Brinson. “I know Coach LeClair takes everything he says to heart and you listen very carefully. He speaks the truth and there’s a lot of knowledge behind those words.”

The 2003 seniors include outfielder Ben Sanderson, second baseman Luke Cherry, infielder Kevin O’Sullivan as well as pitchers Brinson, Neal Sears, Jason Tourangeau and Glenn Tucker.

Darryl Lawhorn, whose grand slam keyed the win over Georgia Tech, leads the returning players. Lawhorn got a fastball over the plate that he obviously hit well.

“He started me off with a fastball outside and I was looking for something similar,” Lawhorn said. “I knew I got enough of it for it to go out but it carried a lot farther.”

Unless the incoming recruiting class is decimated by the draft, there will be a lot of arms to help fill the voids in the pitching staff.

“I think the program is in great shape,” Sanderson said. “I think the sky’s the limit. Obviously, there are some holes to be filled pitching-wise but the program is going to be solid for years to come.
We’ve reached a point where we’re competitive in Conference USA and we’ve been to the regionals five straight years.

“Now it’s time to take that next step and contend for a berth in the College World Series.”

Lawhorn expects the Pirates to be improved next season.

“Omaha will be the goal, as it is every year,” Lawhorn said. “I know we’ll put up better numbers. It’s going to be fun with all the young pitchers coming in. Offensively, about everybody is coming back. It’s going to be fun to watch and fun to play.”

No surprises

ECU baseball coach Randy Mazey said his first season at the Pirates’ helm was about what he — and others — expected.

“We were picked fifth in Conference USA in the preseason by the coaches and that’s where we finished,” Mazey said. “They probably knew more about our team at the start of the season than I did. We played well enough in the conference to win eight out of 10 series. Depth in pitching is what eventually proved to be our downfall.”

No. 23

Senior outfielder Ben Sanderson was accorded the honor of wearing the No. 23 jersey of former coach Keith LeClair during the 2003 season.

“It meant a tremendous amount to me to be the first to wear Coach LeClair’s number,” Sanderson said. “Coach LeClair means so much to me and the community that surrounds East Carolina baseball. To be able to represent that — words can’t describe that.”

Sanderson has one more class this summer and an internship in the fall to complete his major in physical activity and fitness. He’ll work at a health club as a personal trainer in his internship.

“I’ll be taking some time away from the game,” Sanderson said. “If I miss it enough I might get back into it as a coach. If not, I’ll be a big fan of it for sure.”

Upcoming schedule highlights

The Pirates will host a tournament in Keith LeClair’s honor next season.

Participating teams will be Clemson, Western Carolina and Georgia Southern. The coaches of all three teams have connections with the former ECU coach. Also scheduled is a trip to Arizona State in 2004.

Lawhorn times two

Left-handed hitting Darryl Lawhorn has been an offensive leader for the Pirates the last two seasons and will be joined on the team next season by his twin brother, Trevor, who sat out this season after transferring from Barton.

“Trevor isn’t a carbon copy of Darryl,” said ECU coach Randy Mazey. “For one thing, he’s a right-handed hitter. It will be interesting to get them both in the lineup on the same team and see what they can do.”

Trevor Lawhorn hit .330 at Barton last season with 10 homers and 56 RBIs. He was named freshman of the year in the Carolinas-Virginia Conference and led the Bulldogs to the league tournament championship.

He also pitched, compiling a 6-3 record with a 3.70 earned run average. He had 58 strikeouts and just 16 walks in 80 2/3 innings.

“He’ll be a big help,” said Darryl Lawhorn. “He’ll probably play in the infield somewhere and bat in the middle of the lineup behind Ryan Norwood and me.”

Movie time

The Pirates passed the time on the bus trip to and from the regional in Atlanta mostly by sleeping or watching movies. “JFK” and “Boondocks Saints” were the feature presentations on the return trip. The team left about 9 a.m. on Sunday and stopped in Charlotte for lunch, arriving back in Greenville around 6 p.m..

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02/23/2007 12:40:41 AM
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