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View from the 'ville
Thursday, May 31, 2007

By Al Myatt

Pirates checking out the battle zone

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

The East Carolina baseball team boarded a bus in Greenville on Wednesday afternoon and headed for Chapel Hill, site of its first round regional contest with Western Carolina on Friday at 2 p.m. at North Carolina's Boshamer Stadium.

"The biggest thing is that we have a practice on Thursday (today) at 11 (a.m.) and we didn't want to scurry out early from Greenville and be in a hurry to get there," said Pirates coach Billy Godwin. "So we left Wednesday to get used to where we're at and we can get over there first thing in the morning."

ECU is scheduled to practice from 11 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. today. Godwin said that 75 minutes will be ample time for the Pirates to work out.

"If you can't get it done in that amount of time at this point in the season, you're probably not going to get it done," said the ECU coach.

The Pirates are back in the NCAA Tournament for the eighth time in nine years. Godwin said he really wasn't anxious during the selection show on Monday.

"I really wasn't worried, not with the regular season we had and the (Conference USA) tournament we had," said the second-year Pirates mentor. "I wasn't sweating bullets. I was counting regionals and I knew by the time they got to us, they were going to keep us close to home."

Boshamer Stadium was the site of a 10-0 UNC-Chapel Hill win over the Pirates on April 24 as freshman Mike Anderson started and lasted just 1 2/3 innings for ECU.

"It was tough in the regular season but at this time of year, you've got to play the best and beat them to be the best," Godwin said. "Western Carolina — we were fortunate to beat them in March.

"The environment is not spectacular — not like it would be if we'd play in Greenville, but we're in a regional with two very good clubs. I don't know much about Jacksonville."

Sophomore right-hander Josh Dowdy went eight innings in ECU's earlier 3-2 win over the Catamounts in the Keith LeClair Classic. Godwin will send junior right-hander T.J. Hose to the mound in the NCAA opener just as he did in the first game of the C-USA Tournament on Wednesday night last week.

"T.J. has been a constant for us," Godwin said. "He beat Pepperdine and Cal State Fullerton. He was outstanding at Houston. And you take the Tulane game. We don't win if he doesn't keep us in the game.

"He's been solid and consistent. I have 100 percent confidence in sending him out there."

Hose battled the Green Wave for six-plus innings, yielding two runs.

"I felt pretty good," Hose said. "I just kept battling. We knew it was going to be a pitchers' duel. I just kept our team in there and then Harrison (Eldridge) got a pitch he could drive and we came out on top."

Eldridge's three-run homer in the bottom of the seventh was the big blow in a 4-2 ECU win.

Hose said the satisfaction of being in the NCAA's this season is in direct contrast to the feeling of being on the outside looking in that the Pirate players experienced last season.

"It was just a great experience watching the selection show, a great feeling," Hose said. "We knew how bad it felt last year. We knew in the fall the hard work and dedication it would take to get back in.

"I think we've had a good season. We were picked in the middle of the pack in Conference USA and we surprised a lot of people by finishing second. We went way beyond what a lot of people expected of us."

The Pirates were second in the C-USA in the regular season and tournament to Rice, a team that Hose feels could take it all — provided the Pirates don't.

"Without a doubt Rice can win it," Hose said. "They just do the little things. You can't make mistakes against them and give them four or five outs in an inning like we did. They've got great pitching and timely hitting. They've got a great chance of getting to the championship."

A high in the upper 80's is expected on Friday, which is fine with Hose.

"I like hot weather," he said. You get loose faster. You feel smooth and deliberate."

Hose is 6-5 with a 3.59 earned run average and a team best 70 strikeouts. He recalls the competitiveness of the Catamounts from earlier this season.

"They're well-coached and do all the little things," he said. "That game could have gone either way. They have good pitching and good hitting. It will be a battle to the end."

It's ironic that the two programs that former Pirates coach Keith LeClair was closest to are matched up in the first game of the NCAA Tournament. LeClair played and coached at Western before leaving to restore the Pirates beginning in 1998 and continuing through 2002. LeClair showed uncommon courage in a lengthy bout with Lou Gehrig's disease.

"It was in the back of my mind about Coach LeClair the first time we played them," Hose said. "It felt ironic the first time and it feels ironic again. If he's looking down, he'd like both of us to advance to tell you the truth."

Godwin noted that current Pirate pitching coach Bill Jarman worked in the same capacity for LeClair at Western.

"In a way it's neat that the two programs he had such an impact on are facing each other," Godwin said. "Other than that, it's just two good baseball teams, but they're probably two good programs because of what he did."

Unlike Hose, Godwin doesn't think LeClair would be sitting on the fence.

"No question, he's pulling for the Pirates," said the ECU coach.

Those that pull for the Pirates will have an easier time getting to the regional site than many other locations.

"What fans can get here and obtain tickets is an advantage as opposed to us playing halfway across the country," Godwin said. "That's a positive."

Godwin said he's not locked in to following Hose with Dustin Sasser as his starter for the second game in the regionals. He may mix up his regular season weekend rotation depending on the matchups that present themselves in the regional.

Shortstop Dale Mollenhauer continues to progress from a hand injury but is still not 100 percent and isn't expected to come to the plate in Chapel Hill.

"He's getting better day by day," Godwin said. "He really looked good defensively in practice today (Wednesday). He's still not an offensive option but he may be able to play defense and run the bases.

"He still hasn't had an at-bat in a month but I feel good about rolling him out there on defense. He's got a role for us but it isn't going to be 100 percent. No."

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05/31/2007 02:37:27 AM


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