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View from the 'ville
Friday, March 27, 2009

By Al Myatt

Streaking Pirates still evolving

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

East Carolina extended its baseball winning streak to eight games this week with a dramatic comeback at Campbell and a shutout at home of UNC-Wilmington in a matchup of nationally-ranked teams.

After playing 11 of their last 12 games on Lewis Field at Clark-LeClair Stadium, the Pirates are on the road for nine of their next 10 contests beginning with a Conference USA doubleheader at Marshall starting at 1 p.m. today.

The remainder of the three-game series with the Thundering Herd will be played as weather permits this weekend.

ECU (18-4, 3-0 C-USA) made the bus ride to Charleston, WV, on Thursday with a stopover in Winston-Salem for supper at a Chili's restaurant.

Coach Billy Godwin has been pleased with his team's rise to No. 19 nationally but qualifies his approval with an assertion that the Pirates are a work in progress.

"There are several areas we've got to get better at," said the ECU coach. "We've got a good group of men. They've bought in to what we're doing. They've executed at a high level."

Right-handed transfer Chris Heston is scheduled to start the first game at Marshall. ECU's weekend rotation, which also includes sophomore right-hander Seth Maness and freshman lefty Kevin Brandt, have a combined record of 9-0.

"We're still figuring out our starting pitching," Godwin said. "If you had told me Mike Anderson and Stihl Sowers would be a combined 1-2, I would have said there's no way we could be 18-4. They really haven't thrown bad at times but they really haven't made the contributions I thought they would at this point.

"On the flip side, you've got guys like Kevin Brandt, who is 4-0, and Brad Mincey is 4-1. We've had some guys step up in that void but we still need to solidify our rotation. I think we're very good at the end of the game with (Bailey) Daniels and (Seth) Simmons. Both of those guys have thrown extremely well."

Both Daniels and Simmons are 1-0 with a pair of saves each. Daniels has a 2.25 earned run average while Simmons is at 2.45.

ECU opened league play last weekend by sweeping Central Florida 26-1, 13-3 and 10-3.

"We played very well," Godwin said. "There's no doubt. When you hold an opponent — and I don't care who it is — to seven runs in three games in this conference, that's good. I mean that's very good. Now we scored 49 runs. I told some people last week that the 49 runs overshadowed some pretty good pitching."

Pirates compete at Buies Creek

The Pirates went from their overwhelming performance against the Knights into a 6-3 hole through three innings at Campbell on Tuesday night. ECU needed successive hits with two out in the top of the ninth by Ryan Wood, Stephen Batts and Kyle Roller to overcome a 9-8 Camels lead.

Simmons struck out the side in the bottom of the ninth for the win.

"I told our players the Campbell game was by far our worst baseball performance, really all year," Godwin said. "When you look back and look at the things that are important, we hit three guys, we walked six, we made three errors and we gave up 11 hits.

"At the end of the day, if you tell anybody in baseball that, you probably think we walk away with a loss. ... I thought what we did a great job of — which is just as important — we competed at a high level. We didn't play at a high level but we competed at a high level."

Pirates deeper behind plate

The Pirates faced some significant personnel losses from last year's 42-21 team that included catcher Corey Kemp, the C-USA player of the year. Kemp hit .341 with 18 home runs and 72 RBI's.

Junior transfer Jared Avchen has come in and been very solid behind the plate while hitting .365 with two homers. Freshman Zach Wright has a .304 average and three round trippers.

"It's probably the deepest we've been (at catcher) with those two guys," Godwin said. "We feel very comfortable with both of those big, physical guys. They both can hit. They bring a lot of heart to the table. We just prayed Corey didn't get hurt because we didn't have a ton of depth but now we've got good players and depth at that position."

Redshirt sophomore outfielder Devin Harris is making a contribution with a .417 average.

"We had high expectations for him because he's got great physical tools," Godwin said. "He's got power. He can run. He can really throw."

Sophomore Trent Whitehead is hitting .427 after getting 88 at-bats last season.

"He's really emerged in that leadoff spot," Godwin said. "He's really energized our team and given us a boost."

Newcomers Heston and Brandt have helped offset the loss of T.J. Hose and Justin Bristow, who combined for 16 wins in 2008.

First baseman Brandon Henderson, who wears former coach Keith LeClair's No. 23, may be out for two to three weeks after turning an ankle, and outfielder Trent Ashcraft is experiencing back problems.

"After 22 games, it could be a lot worse," Godwin said of the injury situation.

Challenge at Marshall

ECU swept the three-game series from Marshall in Greenville last season. The Pirates lead the all-time series 10-1. The Thundering Herd is 10-12 overall this season with a 2-1 record in C-USA.

"They return a great deal of talent from a club that won 30 games last year," Godwin said. "They probably had one of the better seasons in Marshall history. They played in our Conference USA tournament championship.

"On paper they appear to be a little better on the mound. Coach (Jeff) Waggoner has done a great job. We've got a good challenge as we go on the road. We're playing an up-and-coming program in our league and it's something we can't take for granted."

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03/27/2009 01:46:19 AM


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