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View from the 'ville
Friday, May 29, 2009

By Al Myatt

Rivals united as ECU hosts regional

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

Before right-handed sophomore pitcher Seth Maness and junior designated hitter Kyle Roller were teammates at East Carolina, they were adversaries in high school. Maness played at Southern Pines Pinecrest and Roller was a Richmond County Raider.

As ECU (42-17) opens NCAA Tournament play at 7 p.m. tonight as the top seed against fourth-seeded Binghamton, Maness and Roller are expected to play important roles in the first regional the Pirates have hosted at Clark-LeClair Stadium.

Maness has a 9-1 record with a 4.18 earned run average. Roller is hitting .325 with 13 home runs and a team-high 65 RBI's.

Second-seeded South Carolina (38-21) and third-seeded George Mason (42-12) will get the double-elimination regional underway with a game scheduled for 3 p.m. today.

The winner of the Greenville regional advances to meet the winner of the regional hosted by North Carolina in a best-of-three super regional. That super regional winner joins seven other teams in the College World Series in Omaha.

Pinecrest and Richmond County are rivals in the Mid-Southeastern 4-A Conference.

"I threw against him my sophomore and junior year," Maness said. "He hit a line drive back at me and broke my thumb through my glove. I still got him out though. That happened my sophomore year.

"We beat them both times my sophomore year and both times my junior year. It's a pretty big rivalry."

Maness' Patriots earned some overdue bragging rights in football in 2008 with a win over Roller's Raiders before Richmond County regrouped and won the Class 4-AA state championship. Roller played some football at Richmond, earning one varsity letter, but his meal ticket to college athletics was baseball.

"That (line drive) was probably my best contact against him," recalled Roller. "He kind of dominated me in high school. That's one thing I remember facing him. He could control all three pitches. He had a good fastball with a good curve and a good change. He just kept you off balance."

Maness and Roller live in the same apartment complex in Greenville.

"I go to his house all the time and just play video games and hang out," Roller said. "When he wants to talk junk, I tell him I can hit off of him again. We can take it to the back yard and give it a shot."

The past is the past and the Pirates' present focus is on being ready for the regional.

"We really talk more about what we can do for ECU," Roller said.

Pirates coach Billy Godwin was involved in the recruiting process of both players and has overseen their development on the college level. Maness' coach at Pinecrest, Jeff Hewitt, lettered in baseball at ECU in 1995 and '96.

"Seth wasn't the kind of guy in high school who just stuck out at you," Godwin said. "His numbers were OK. When you went to see him pitch, he was mid-80's (mph, fastball).

"The more we watched — he was the kind of guy you had to see over and over to appreciate his ability to pitch. We had no clue. We didn't bring him in going, 'Hey, this guy's going to do this or that.' We just liked his command, his poise and you had to see that time and time again.

"We got about six good looks at him in the recruiting process and every time there was no reason to walk away on Seth but there was a reason to go back and see him again. I'll never forget, Coach (Bill) Jarman (pitching coach) and I went to Wake Forest probably two weeks before the early signing period.

"I said, 'Get in the car, we're going to either get this Maness kid or we're going to rule him out.' We put the radar gun down and just watched him and, you know, he's a great pitcher."

Roller, now listed at 6-foot-1 and 248 pounds, made a more immediate impression when he was at Richmond.

"We knew when we were getting Kyle that we were getting a guy with tremendous power and presence," Godwin said. "He's kind of a presence up there but he's a better athlete and runner than you would give him credit for.

"He's been big. To put him in the middle of our lineup and have his presence there as a left-handed hitter — basically since halfway through his freshman year he's been a mainstay in our order. That's a credit to him and what he's been able to do."

Maness struggled to a degree at the outset of the 2009 season after being named Conference USA freshman of the year in 2008.

"It was tough starting out the year," Maness said. "My command wasn't as good, but then I felt like as the season progressed I got my command back and I was able to throw four pitches all for strikes any count I needed to."

Maness' velocity has improved since he arrived at ECU. His fastball now peaks out in the low-90's.

"A lot of it has to do with the strength and conditioning we do in the offseason, long toss and the pitchers' throwing program," Maness said. "All that comes into play."

Roller said his teammates have presented him with opportunities to drive in runs.

"When they get on base every time, it's kind of easy," Roller said. "You take the pressure off yourself because if you can't do it, you know the guy behind you can. Every opportunity I get, I've tried to execute and good things have happened."

The Pirates are coming off a 1-2 performance in the C-USA Tournament.

"We're going to use that (for motivation)," Maness said.

"We're just going to put that behind us and focus on the task ahead," Roller commented.

The Pirates opened the C-USA tourney with a 6-3 win over Central Florida before falling 5-2 to host Southern Miss and then dropping an elimination game 3-0 to Tulane.

"We hit some balls hard, particularly against Tulane," Godwin said. "(Trent) Whitehead hit a ball to the wall. Roller absolutely crushed a ball. We hit some hard ground balls that kind of turned into double plays."

Despite scoring just two runs in the last two games, Godwin has confidence in his team's offensive ability.

"I'm not really pushing any panic buttons," said the Pirates coach. "We didn't score (against Tulane) and it's the first time we've been shut out (in 143 games), but I don't think any of these guys are really worried about that.

"You don't just automatically become a bad hitting team."

The Pirates have worked on some situational hitting in practice this week.

Having a regional at home should be a positive factor. The Pirates are 28-7 in Greenville this year. There has been no packing, no traveling and everyone will be sleeping in their own beds.

"It should be a pretty exciting atmosphere," Roller said. "We're pretty tough at home. We've got a great fan base. We've played real good at home, so we're looking forward to it."

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05/29/2009 02:29:30 AM


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