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View from the 'ville
Friday, April 3, 2009

By Al Myatt

Pirates ride out the storm

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

East Carolina's travel plans for its Conference USA baseball series at UAB were adjusted as the No. 16 Pirates returned to Raleigh on Thursday for a flight to Atlanta.

ECU's departure from Raleigh-Durham International was delayed from its 3 p.m. scheduled takeoff for almost three hours. Concerned about another potential weather delay at the Atlanta airport, the Pirates ended up chartering a bus from the Georgia capital to Birmingham.

The brief aerial hop into the Deep South turned into a two-and-a-half-hour bus ride.

Coach Billy Godwin expected to have his team in Birmingham around midnight, over five hours later than the original projected arrival time.

"We didn't expect to be on the bus this long but I never heard one of the guys complain," said Godwin en route. "It's just like, 'OK, what do we have to do?' Whatever they've got to overcome — flight delays or weather — the kids have done a good job."

The Pirates didn't have any movies for the Atlanta to Birmingham ride but Godwin said the bus driver provided one.

Flexibility has been a strong suit for ECU in its 22-5 start, which included a 14-4 triumph at recent nemesis N.C. State on Wednesday night. The Wolfpack had owned a five-game winning streak over the diamond Bucs.

The Pirates have gotten accustomed to weather adjustments such as those which resulted in the restructuring of the series at Marshall last weekend. ECU took its regular season set with the Thundering Herd two games to one despite a loss in the third game on Sunday. The Pirates regrouped quickly for a 15-4 win over Elon at home on Tuesday night.

Midweek pitching in the wins over the Phoenix and the Wolfpack was a positive factor in Godwin's analysis.

"Coming off the Marshall series we had six pitchers who were throwing well," said the Pirates coach. That group included Chris Heston, Seth Maness and left-hander Kevin Brandt, who are scheduled to start in that order against the Blazers.

Brad Mincey improved to 6-1 with the win at State.

"One key for us is to have eight to 10 pitchers," Godwin said.

What he has seen recently from Patrick Somers, Mike Anderson, Lance Honeycutt and Mike Wright has given the ECU coach encouragement in regard to the potential depth of his staff.

"That's a critical thing for us in terms of depth," Godwin said. "We saw those guys step up for us. It was in a limited role, but that's very positive. I thought every one of those guys took a step forward this week."

The Pirates gave their pitchers plenty of run support in the recent midweek matchups.

Trent Whitehead stepped up with two home runs and five RBI's in the win over the Wolfpack.

"Trent had an outstanding night," Godwin said. "We haven't seen the long ball from him but that three-run homer was huge in a tight game. That's the type of thing that energizes a team and we talk about that — doing something early in a game that will energize the team.

"Drew Schieber had a hit that put us up 4-0."

Devin Harris hit another three-run homer for the Bucs in a decisive seven-run third inning at Doak Field.

"When you put those sevens on the board, that's tough to overcome," Godwin said.

Whitehead added a two-run homer in the fourth for a 9-0 Pirates lead. Whitehead's .431 average leads the team.

ECU leads C-USA with a 5-1 record. UAB is 1-2 in the league and 16-10 overall. Games are scheduled for 8 p.m. tonight, 3 p.m. on Saturday and noon on Sunday.

"I compare (UAB) to Marshall," Godwin said. "They're an up and coming program. They made their bracket finals in the conference tournament last year against Houston. Coach (Brian) Shoop has been there three years and is doing a good job. They've got some of the same players and their pitching looks better."

The Blazers hit .267 the season before Shoop arrived. In his first year as head coach, UAB's average rose to .296 in 2007. The Blazers hit .311 last season and currently have a .335 batting average.

ECU goes into its second weekend series without Brandon Henderson, who is hitting .405. The senior first baseman is recovering from a turned ankle.

"It looks like under the best case scenario, Brandon would be back in some capacity for the Rice series (April 10-12 in Greenville)," Godwin said. "In the worst case scenario, he should be back the following weekend at Tulane."

Godwin said shortstop Dustin Harrington dealt with a similar ailment in the preseason.

"You've got to be careful in rehab not to try to do too much — push it too quickly — or you'll make it worse," Godwin said. "Brandon is working very diligently in rehab with our trainer, Zac Womack, every day."

Godwin and the Pirates didn't seem to mind the inconveniences presented in their adjusted travel arrangements on Thursday. The extended forecast was calling for better conditions in Birmingham this weekend.

"This is a loose group," Godwin said. "They're playing with confidence. We always tell them to respect everybody they play and respect the game — but don't fear anybody."

Around the horn

ECU basketball coach Mack McCarthy is in Detroit for the Final Four. ... The Pirate football team will have its first scrimmage of the spring on Saturday following a workout in shorts this afternoon. ... Lou Holtz, coaching-legend-turned-football analyst and father of ECU coach Skip Holtz, will be the featured speaker this evening as the Pirate program hosts a clinic for high school coaches. The elder Holtz will address motivation, a subject he deals with on a regular basis in his entertaining and insightful "pep talk" segments on ESPN.

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04/03/2009 01:39:33 AM


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