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College Sports in the Carolinas

View from the East
Monday, March 7, 2005

By Al Myatt

ECU batting 1.000 in new digs category


Like first impressions, there's only one chance for favorable results in first games at new stadiums.

East Carolina's baseball team rose to the emotion of the occasion to win its opener at Clark-LeClair Stadium on Friday, making the Pirates 3-0 in first games at their current major sports facilities.

ECU played its first football game at Ficklen Stadium on Sept. 21, 1963, against Wake Forest and topped the Demon Deacons 20-10. That was the start of a 14-game winning streak for the Pirates that spanned two seasons.

The facility has since evolved with additions from a capacity of 17,000 to one that seats 43,000 and, of course, is now officially known as Bagwell Field at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

Minges Coliseum has been altered radically since opening with bleacher seating for about 6,500 in 1968. It became Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum with a major renovation before the 1994-95 season and now accommodates up to 8,000, according to posted signs in the facility.

The basketball arena's original cost was $2 million and the renovation, which added plush theater seats on the upper level, had a price tag of about $12 million. Of course, the value of the dollar has diminished over the years, too.

ECU won 80-76 over East Tennessee State in the first game in Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum on Jan. 6, 1995 — a better outcome than when the Pirates dropped the dedication game at old Minges to West Virginia 77-60 on Jan. 27, 1968.

The Pirates certainly didn't pick a patsy for the opener at Clark-LeClair.

Michigan was picked to finish second in the Big Ten this season and was coming off a tune-up trip to Florida where it played Illinois-Chicago and St. John's. The Wolverines finished the Keith LeClair Classic 2-1 with wins over Georgia on a walkoff homer and over No. 4 North Carolina, which went 0-3 for the weekend in Greenville.

The Pirates sandwiched wins over Michigan and Georgia around a 10-3 loss to Arizona State in the KLC. Except for a bitterly-cold breeze during the matchup with the Sun Devils which followed rain delays on Saturday, the weather was cooperative and the fans packed the new Taj Mahal of college baseball.

"I mean it's beautiful," said ECU coach Randy Mazey of the $10 million structure which went up at the site of old Harrington Field in less than a year. "It's pretty obvious when you look at it, it's one of the top facilities in college baseball."

One factor about Clark-LeClair at this point is that it is almost as foreign to the Pirates — who spent much of the preseason practicing at high school fields — as it was to the other five major programs that convened in Greenville for the weekend.

"Eventually, it's going to be a home field advantage," Mazey said. "It's new to us just like it is to the other teams. It's going to take us some getting used to. Hopefully, it will take East Carolina baseball to the next level."

About all that remains for the program to accomplish is to make that long-coveted trip to Omaha, Neb., for the College World Series. The new stadium provides an advantage which didn't previously exist — that of allowing ECU to host NCAA Tournament games on campus.

Mazey and the Pirates were able to handle the emotion of the opener, which included an appearance by LeClair, the former Pirates coach who is restricted by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. LeClair's children, 10-year old daughter Audrey and 7-year old son J.D., threw out the first pitches. Mazey initially joined the ECU program as an assistant to LeClair in 1998.

The were 4,410 fans on hand — with countless goose bumps and likely a few tears — for the opening ceremonies.

"It was a very emotional moment for anybody whose life he's touched, and mine's definitely one of 'em," Mazey said. "I was happy to see him out here really. He's watching the games and we still talk about the pitchers and the hitters and the at-bats like we always have.

"It was good to see him out here.

"(Friday's) game was the culmination of a lot of things — the history of East Carolina baseball and all the players who have ever played here, all the people who have ever come and watched games, and all the financial support. It all kind of came together at one time (Friday). It was very emotional for everybody, I think."

Mazey was asked if there was anything he missed about the old field. He didn't think long before replying.

"No," he said firmly.

Pitching is Pirates' key

ECU got stellar pitching in its two KLC wins, beating Michigan 2-1 on Friday and Georgia 7-1 on Sunday.

In a 10-3 loss on Saturday night to Arizona State, the Pirates yielded five runs in the first inning on three walks, two errors and a wild pitch and never got back in the game. Sophomore Mike Flye, the ECU starter, didn't make it through the opening inning.

"The motto of this team is going to be, 'If we pitch, we win,' " said Mazey in the aftermath of the loss to the Sun Devils, now 11-10. "We're a little bit thin there. If we can't stretch our starter out and get him into the fifth, sixth and seventh inning, we're going to have games like that.

"All our starters need to go out there and hammer the strike zone. The wind was blowing in. We got a good defense behind us. It was a tough night to pitch. It was a cold night. You don't get a great feel for the ball on a night like this."

ECU outhit Arizona State 7-5 despite the final margin.

"I'm not displeased with the effort at all," Mazey said. "It was just one of those days where we hit balls right at 'em."


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02/23/2007 12:33:11 AM

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