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CHRONICLING ECU & C-USA SPORTS
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View from the 'ville
Thursday, May 24, 2007

By Al Myatt

Tourney already in the bank for ECU, area

By Al Myatt
©2007 Bonesville.net
All rights reserved.

Whether East Carolina wins or loses in the Conference USA baseball tournament at Clark-LeClair Stadium this week, the Pirates are going to come out on top in terms of the bottom line, according to ECU athletic director Terry Holland.

"It's a great boon for the whole community, obviously, and for East Carolina University," said Holland from a vantage point in the press box. "We'll bring in a lot of people at a time of the year when people are usually leaving town.

"Hopefully, we'll bring more people into town than are heading out to the beach."

ECU gave Conference USA a guarantee to host the event. The Pirates were originally scheduled to host in 2008, of course, but Tulane fell behind in its repairs and renovations at Turchin Stadium in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

So Holland and the Pirates welcomed the event a year ahead of time and it will be an unbudgeted moneymaker for ECU. The ECU AD knew that on Monday this week.

"We have no problem making that," Holland said of the guaranteed figure to C-USA. "We sold that on the all-session tickets."

Individual session tickets went on sale on Monday.

"The more people that come the rest of the way, (the better off ECU will be financially)," Holland said. "If we keep playing, I think they'll be here."

Eldridge delivers

The Pirates took a big step in the tournament with a big swing of the bat by Harrison Eldridge in a two-strike, two-out situation with two on in the bottom of the seventh.

The junior centerfielder from Knoxville, TN, turned on an inside fastball from Tulane ace Shooter Hunt, who had been all but untouchable until a crowd of 2,608 took its seventh inning stretch.

A walk and a single set the stage for a towering drive off the bat of the 5-foot-7 Eldridge.

"I was just trying to battle," Eldridge said. "When you've got two strikes on you, you're just looking for something not to strike out and put the ball in play. Shooter Hunt has one of the better curveballs in the league.

"Basically, you sit on fastball and adjust to the offspeed. He gave me a pitch to where I could handle a little bit. It was a little lower than belt high. He hit his spot. It was a pitcher's pitch. It just didn't work out for him.

"I'm not taking anything away from him. He's a great pitcher."

Hunt, who came in with a 2.44 earned run average and made first team All C-USA on Tuesday, had allowed just one hit until the seventh, a single to Stephen Batts in the third.

"We had been going inside on him all night," Hunt said of his book against Eldridge. "I thought I made a good pitch, but he just turned on it and got a good piece of the ball. I won the first two at-bats and he won the last one."

While Eldridge's blast appeared to have fence-clearing power written all over it, he said he wasn't sure.

"Going off the bat, I knew it had a chance," he said. "I was just basically telling myself going to first base, 'Please go. Please go. We need this so bad.' I saw the berm (fans beyond the right field fence) go up to catch the ball before it was over and it was definitely one of the better feelings I've ever had in my career."

The Wave had nicked ECU starter T.J. Hose for two runs and a 2-0 lead in the sixth. Not lost in the excitement of Eldridge's sixth home run of the season was 3 2/3 innings of scoreless relief from the Pirates bullpen. Jason Nietz, Bailey Daniels and Shane Mathews combined to protect ECU's lead.

Jamie Ray had an RBI single in the eighth for the final 4-2 margin.

ECU coach Billy Godwin saw his team show a winning hand when the chips were down.

"Talk about big time players coming up in big time situations," said the Pirates coach. "What a great effort by Harrison Eldridge, T.J. Hose and our pitching staff. T.J. gave us a great outing and for Jason Nietz and Bailey Daniels to come in and do what they did — it was a great effort from my pitching staff."

Godwin said he thought Eldridge's drive was gone.

"It was the difference in the game," Godwin said. "It was huge for him to come up like that. He struggled up to that point, came up at a big time and got a big knock."

High-flyin' Golden Eagles next

The Pirates play the hottest team in the league at 7:30 tonight — Southern Miss, which has won 11 straight, including a 9-5 win over UAB on Wednesday. The Blazers were up 5-2 until the Golden Eagles erupted for six runs in the seventh.

"Momentum in this game is huge," said Godwin of tonight's matchup which will pit two teams coming off of exhilarating comeback wins. "A come-from-behind win against a very good pitcher is huge. We'll enjoy this tonight, but tomorrow it's 0-0 when we start and play Southern Miss."

Eldridge was on the same page.

"We've got to come out tomorrow and wipe this away," said Wednesday night's hero. "We're 0-0 again is basically what you want to say."

Like Tulane, the Golden Eagles took two of three from the Pirates during the regular season. A 6-3 loss to ECU on Sunday, April 29, in Greenville was Southern Miss' last loss.

Dustin Sasser (5-4, 3.59 ERA), who will start tonight for ECU, went five innings and got the loss in a 5-1 Southern Miss win in Greenville on April 28. The junior left-hander from Pikeville Aycock yielded eight hits, all five runs — three of which were earned — with three walks and three strikeouts the first time he faced the Golden Eagles this season.

He is 0-2 for his career against Southern Miss, having pitched into the sixth inning in a loss in Hattiesburg in 2006.

"All I need to do tomorrow is try to get ahead of all the hitters, try to get the first out of every inning and not try to do too much — just relax and throw the ball and let it take care of itself from there," Sasser said. "Southern Miss is a good team. They put the ball in play and they've got good pitching.

"The only thing we can control is ourselves. We're just going to come out tomorrow with the same intensity. I'm going to try to do my job and let the game take care of itself."

Send an e-mail message to Al Myatt.

Dig into Al Myatt's Bonesville archives.

05/24/2007 03:17:35 AM
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