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View from the 'ville
Thursday, April 5, 2007

By Al Myatt

Pack, Pirates angling for postseason

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

RALEIGH — In the end, East Carolina's long drives were bested by N.C. State's clutch hits at Doak Field on Wednesday night.

Although Harrison Eldridge and Brandon Henderson went yard for the Pirates for a 2-0 lead, State came back for a 3-2 win after a hit batter and a walk set the table for a three-run Wolfpack eighth.

A matchup between the regional rivals with implications beyond bragging rights brought out a high degree of positive emotion from a crowd of 2,862.

With a 2-0 lead in the fifth, ECU fans were alternately chanting, "Purple" and "Gold."

"East Carolina fans, you've got to understand how loyal and enthusiastic they are about their athletics, too, especially their baseball team," said State coach Eliott Avent. "They've always loved baseball in eastern North Carolina.

"Their baseball team has been very successful over the last seven or eight years and they support 'em very, very well. We're proud of our fans coming out tonight and we're glad they got to witness a great game."

It was the largest home crowd of the season for the Wolfpack, but was dwarfed by the 5,523 which saw State's 5-4 win in Greenville on March 6 in the Keith LeClair Invitational.

"It's a good atmosphere," said ECU coach Billy Godwin of Doak Field. "I still think we have the best atmosphere in the country. But (N.C. State) is a very good atmosphere for baseball. I mean it's a regional-type environment. Both games were that type of environment. The fans are right here on top of you. It's a great environment."

East Carolina (21-9) got the jump on Wednesday night.

The Pirates, ranked from No. 22 to No. 26 in the national polls this week, took a 1-0 lead when Harrison Eldridge launched a 3-1 pitch from Pack freshman Nate Karns just to the right of the 400-foot marker in center field to lead off the fourth inning.

"It was a fast ball a little up," said Eldridge. "I was up 3-1 in the count and I knew he was going to have get a ball over for a strike. I was just looking for something up in the zone that I could drive."

It was the third homer of the season for the ECU center fielder.

"I don't consider myself a home run hitter or anything," Eldridge said. "I try to put the ball in play. If it goes out, it goes out. He just kind of left it up right there and I got some good stick on it."

Avent good naturedly told Eldridge he would never see another 3-1 fast ball from a Wolfpack pitcher.

"I think Harrison Eldridge is a great player," Avent said later. "He's what college baseball is all about."

Brandon Henderson hit his sixth home run of the season on a 3-1 count with one out in the fifth for a 2-0 Pirates lead.

Freshman Mike Anderson pitched 4 2/3 innings of shutout ball in a starting role for ECU.

"He did an outstanding job, probably more than I expected," Godwin said. "That's good for us and good for the depth of our staff for down the road. He proved tonight he can come in and be a key contributor to our program this year."

Shortstop Dale Mollenhauer anchored the ECU infield on an errorless fielding night for both clubs.

State (23-8) is not a Top 25 team in most polls at present but the Pirates represented a midweek opportunity for the Wolfpack to help themselves in the rankings.

"This helps us moreso for postseason," Avent said. "I don't get into polls that much obviously because I don't think the polls have ever really done us justice for the teams we've had, I'll be honest with you.

"They've always ranked us low, without question. I don't think I politic the polls. I think that's what it is – a little bit of politics – and I've never done a good job with that.

"About postseason, I think it is important because (ECU) is a quality baseball team. They won 14 in a row. You saw how good they were. That's a team we might see competing for a host site for a regional or super regional or whatever.

"I think this means more for postseason than it does for polls."

Former ECU coach Gary Overton, now a broadcast analyst for the Pirates, confirmed that this was a meaningful midweek matchup.

"Those that vote in the polls look at midweek games based on the quality of the opponent," Overton said. "Both of these teams tonight played a quality opponent, no question about that. It's a much bigger factor than a lesser opponent.

"When you get into conference play for seeding in a conference tournament and then for possible seeding in the NCAA, that's what makes conference games that much more important. This was a game tonight that was in the national spotlight because of the quality of the teams."

ECU and State must refocus quickly as they remain in the national spotlight this weekend, based on their caliber of opponent. The Pirates host No. 8 Rice for a Conference USA set while the Pack gets a visit from No. 2 Florida State.

"We hate to lose midweek games, especially against N.C. State – somebody that we consider one of our rivals," Eldridge said. "It's always a good game, regardless of how our seasons are going, but we've got Rice coming in this weekend. They've been No. 1 in the conference the past two years.

"They're one of the better ballclubs in the country. We've definitely got to look past this tomorrow. It's going to be hard on the bus ride home. We'll definitely have to come out (Thursday) and try to have a good practice and try to be ready for Rice on Friday."

With a non-conference schedule that has included UCLA, Pepperdine, Cal State Fullerton and Michigan, Godwin feels his team should not be awed by the Owls. He also said he's been encouraged by the progress of the pitching in recent weeks.

"We've got to come out tomorrow and prepare to move on," said the ECU coach. "We've got a lot of games left to play. This isn't going to make or break our season."

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04/05/2007 02:38:09 AM


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