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View from the 'ville
Thursday, May 27, 2010

By Al Myatt

Forget opener, C-USA Tourney starts today

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

East Carolina lost its opening game of the Conference USA baseball tournament 11-3 to nationally-ranked Rice on Wednesday but the Pirates still control their postseason fate going into a noon start (EDT) with Southern Miss today.

The ECU-Rice matchup at the University of Houston's Cougar Field was essentially window dressing in terms of determining the tournament champion and earning the corresponding automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament.

In C-USA's new six-team, pool-play format, there are two pods of three schools each. Rice, Marshall and Houston make up pod number one. The Pirates, Southern Miss and Memphis make up pod number two. The teams with the best record in each pod will meet in the championship game at 8 p.m. (EDT) on Saturday night (TV: CBS College Sports).

Each team went into the tournament guaranteed three games. Teams in each pod will play the two teams in their pod and one team outside its pod. The team with the best composite record in each pod will advance to the championship game. Two-way ties in a pod will be resolved based on head-to-head play. In case of a three-way tie, the highest seed will advance.

The higher seed will be the home team in games on the first and third days of the tournament as well as the championship game. Teams that were the visitors on day one will be the home team on day two. ECU will be the home team today. Coach Billy Godwin plans to start junior right-hander Seth Maness (9-3, 4,52 earned run average) against the Golden Eagles.

"We came into the tournament knowing we had to win our pool to advance to the championship game," Godwin said. "Your pool is the most important two games. If you win those two games, you're in the championship game regardless of what you do in the out of pool game."

The out of pool games give teams a chance to enhance their NCAA resumes in terms of their ratings power indices. ECU's RPI will not get the Pirates into the NCAA Tournament so the matchup with the Owls was pretty meaningless. Godwin and his club know the C-USA tournament championship is their ticket to an NCAA regional.

Godwin said Rice and Southern Miss, the top two seeds, may get NCAA bids regardless of whether or not they win the league event. He figures the other four teams must get C-USA's automatic berth to make the NCAA field.

"Coming in, we weren't going to throw anything away but we were going to put all our eggs in the basket of winning our pool, which is Southern Miss and Memphis," Godwin said.

Favre weighs in

Former Southern Miss quarterback Brett Favre reportedly told the Golden Eagles baseball team that if they make the College World Series for the second straight year that he would play another season for the Minnesota Vikings.

"I hadn't heard that," Godwin said. "The important thing is that we have to win and we knew that coming in the way we set up the tournament. We didn't feel like in an out of pool game (Rice, Wednesday) that we wanted to use what we considered our better pitching.

"Now we threw some guys that certainly should have gone out there and competed because they wear a Pirate uniform. They give us a chance but we knew — and I told our guys — that we needed to hit (Wednesday).

"I thought we swung the bat okay. We just didn't get any timely hits and Rice played very well."

Kyle Roller's home run in the top of the first gave ECU a brief 1-0 lead but the Owls answered with three runs in the bottom of the frame.

Southern Miss swept the Pirates in a three-game series May 7-9 in Hattiesburg. Maness went 5 2/3 innings in an 8-2 loss on May 8, allowing 11 hits and three earned runs.

"Seth gives us a chance," Godwin said. "If we can get those timely hits, we've got as good a chance to beat them as anybody. I thought he threw very well against them down there. We didn't back him up and play good defense behind him.

"It's important that we bring all three phases of the game — defense, hitting and, certainly, with him on the mound, you feel you're going to get a quality-pitched game. ... He brings some confidence to our team when he's on the mound."

ECU can't give up big innings

Southern Miss is already 1-0 in pod play by virtue of an 8-2 win over Memphis on Wednesday. The Golden Eagles scored six runs in the fourth inning.

"They can be explosive," Godwin said of Southern Miss. "They had four home runs from four different guys. I don't think they're a big speed team. What you've got to do against them is really minimize damage. You can't give up the big inning. They can feed on that.

"I saw that when we played them. The big inning is what killed us there. It was the fact that we couldn't minimize the damage. That's what you can not do. You can't go up there and let them hang up three or four runs in an inning. That's tough to come back from.

"We've got to do a good job containing them. They're a good offensive club. They can strike anywhere in that lineup. But I also think we're a good offensive club. If we do the things we need to do, we should be fine."

Rice had three innings on Wednesday in which it scored three or more runs.

"In a big inning, you can always go back and there's either going to be one of three things — an error, a walk or a hit by pitch," Godwin said. "I think we walked two guys in that (first) inning when they came back and scored three.

"You just can't do that with a good offensive club. They're good enough on their own."

Wooten playing shortstop

Pirate freshman John Wooten was brought into the ECU program as a corner infielder. Although he was expected to challenge for playing time at first base, personnel issues have resulted in Wooten relocating at shortstop.

"I haven't made any excuses through this whole thing and I'm not going to start now," Godwin said. "John Wooten is the best option we have. He's done an outstanding job there.

"I wouldn't say John Wooten's career at East Carolina after this year is going to be at shortstop but he goes out there every day. He brings intensity to the table and he's playing the position as well as he can."

Early to bed, early to rise

The Pirates had a 10 p.m. curfew, local time, on Wednesday night in preparation for today's early start.

"We'll make sure our guys get ample rest," Godwin said. "We'll meet at 6:45 (a.m.) for breakfast, make sure they're fueled up and ready to go.

"One of the things we did because we knew we were going to play some early games was adjust our schedule. Our practice was at nine o'clock (a.m.) the other day when we got here so we were up and working early. I think that's important. We kind of changed our kids' schedule some. Our curfew is at 10. Usually, it's at 11.

"We're putting them on a little more of a disciplined schedule. We're putting them to bed early. They're getting up early, but they're still getting their rest."


There won't likely be a lot of crowd energy for the players to draw from when Southern Miss and East Carolina get underway before lunch today.

"The environment is not going to be special unless the host team plays," Godwin said. "It's been that way everywhere we've been. I'm in my fifth year now. When the host team plays, you've got a good environment. ... With Rice here today, we probably had four or five hundred (fans), but no more than that."

Host Houston won the nightcap Wednesday, 11-7, over Marshall.

Friday starter TBA

Godwin hasn't named a starting pitcher for Friday when the Pirates are looking at another noon (EDT) start against Memphis. Ideally, the Pirate skipper's options would include junior right-hander Zach Woods (8-4, 4.73) and/or sophomore left-hander Kevin Brandt (3-7, 5.28).

"Whoever's left over after (Thursday)," Godwin said. "One thing we've found in the postseason is watching other teams and how they react to certain pitchers is an advantage in a tournament.

"To me, it's about matchups. We could start Brandt or Woods. ... Kevin probably pitched the best game of the year for himself earlier in the year so there's some confidence there."

Brandt pitched a complete game in a 3-2 ECU win at Memphis on April 11.

"We'll watch Memphis again," Godwin said. "It's just who gives us the best matchups. I think either one of those guys are a good matchup. It's just again, who gives us the best chance to win. All I try to do is survive and move on and figure it out the next day.

"I can promise you this. I'm not bringing anybody home rested in my back pocket."

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05/27/2010 03:24 AM


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