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View from the East
Tuesday, May 27, 2003

By Al Myatt
ECU Beat Writer for The News & Observer

Relief aplenty when the bubble doesn't burst

©2003 Bonesville.net

There were 25 baseball players in a staring contest with a big screen television in the Pat Draughon room of the Ward Sports Medicine Building. The atmosphere was kind of like sitting outside the principal’s office, not knowing why you had been called out of class.

The tense Monday gathering, of course, was waiting to find out on the selection show if the East Carolina Pirates would be in the NCAA Tournament for the fifth straight year.

“Coming in, we had a lot of anxiety,” said ECU sophomore shortstop Darryl Lawhorn. “All of the seniors — there was a possibility that they had played their last game last week.”

Senior outfielder Ben Sanderson said he was prepared for the worst.

“I didn’t really want my career to end in the Pat Draughon room,” Sanderson said. “We had prepared ourselves but we thought we had done enough to get into a regional.”

Senior right-hander Will Brinson had been worried, too.

“It was tough sitting around the last couple of days wondering if we were going to make it or not,” Brinson said. “It was a feeling of relief that we did.”

At 12:37 p.m. the tension subsided and the room erupted as “EAST CAROLINA” flashed up on the screen — matched up in the first game of the double-elimination event with South Carolina in a regional to be hosted by Georgia Tech.

“It was like 1,000 pounds being lifted off our backs,” Sanderson said. “... I thought we did enough but at the same time it’s just really nerve-wracking, not knowing whether you’re done. For us seniors, it was really nerve-wracking. It was just tremendous emotion when our name popped up there.”

South Carolina made it to the NCAA championship game in Omaha last year. The Gamecocks are 39-20 this season.

“They’re a great program, great tradition down there,” Sanderson said. “I know we’ve got a real big task down there.”

Georgia Tech (44-16) is the No. 3 seed nationally and No. 1 in the regional. The Yellow Jackets will face Stetson (39-22) in the first round. ECU (33-25-1) will likely send Brinson against the Gamecocks.

Brinson is 3-3 this season with a 4.48 earned run average.

“You know South Carolina is going to be a good team,” Brinson said. “That regional — it looks pretty tough. You’ve just got to go out there and pitch your game and hope everything falls in place for you.”

ECU has been virtually assured of a bid the last four years — getting an automatic berth twice as champions of a conference tournament. On those previous Selection Days, that greatly reduced the potential for suspense that was prevalent on Monday afternoon.

“Last year we won the (C-USA) tournament so we knew we got in,” Lawhorn said. “We were just trying to find out where we were going. This year we weren’t sure we were getting in. Seeing our name on TV was just amazing.

"We were just real, real anxious and nervous. When it popped up there, everybody just screamed and yelled. It was awesome, a great feeling for us.”

Coach Randy Mazey said he had made out a 64-team bracket himself on Sunday afternoon and was getting worried when many teams he had on the bubble made the tournament before ECU was announced. He felt ECU’s recent tradition may have been an influential factor.

“I don’t think this program is in if it hasn’t dome what it’s done over the last four or five years,” Mazey said.

The Pirates also helped themselves by winning eight of their 10 series against Conference USA teams.

“We’ve never been on the bubble before,” Brinson said. “I guess we caught some breaks and got in. You prepare for the worst and hope for the best. I think that’s what we’ve been doing the last couple of days.”

The Pirates worked out in shorts and T-shirts after the bracket announcements on Monday afternoon. Coach Mazey told the players the team would leave Wednesday at 8 a.m. to make the trip to Atlanta by bus.

“Being here and seeing our name on TV — it was awesome,” Lawhorn said. “I had a lot of jitters along with all the seniors. It feels great but we got a tough bracket ahead of us.”

The Pirates continued the success of an era which had reached new heights under LeClair, who had coached ECU to the last four NCAA berths.

“It’s been amazing to be able to represent Coach LeClair,” said Sanderson, who wears No. 23 in honor of the former coach. “Words can’t really say what it’s meant to me just being able to run out there every day with that number on my back representing what he meant to this program and this community.”

Mazey is looking forward to having a new stadium for the 2005 season. It will be a tremendous recruiting tool. ECU has done amazingly well with an outdated facility.

“It’s an outstanding accomplishment — five straight years — that shows consistency,” said ECU athletics director Mike Hamrick. “If you can do something good over a long period of time that shows your program is moving in the right direction or is in the right direction. I’m happy for these kids. I’m happy for Coach Mazey in his first year.

“We’re elated to be a No. 3 seed but a few things go right here or there, we could have easily won 40 games this year. We lost a lot of one-run games but we’re pleased, the kids are pleased and I’m happy for everyone.”

A recent Pirate Club meeting in Atlanta, the city where ECU will try to take the next step towards Omaha, drew about 100 supporters. But that does not indicate the full extent of purple and gold the team can expect to see in the stands at Tech's Russ Chandler Stadium, predicted Hamrick.

“We have an annual Pirate Club banquet there that is very well-attended,” he said. “It’s an easy trip for our fans in western North Carolina but I’m sure they’ll be a lot of fans from Raleigh, Greenville, heading on down to Atlanta. We expect a good contingent of Pirate fans in Atlanta this weekend.”

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02/23/2007 12:41:11 AM
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