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The Bradsher Beat
Wednesday, May 24, 2006

By Bethany Bradsher

One last chance to right the season


If the East Carolina baseball team is a table, one of the legs has been wobbling lately.

Hitting, fielding, starting pitching — all have been reliable in recent weeks, said head coach Billy Godwin. The primary struggles have been in the bullpen.

With a do-or-die Conference USA tournament looming, the Bucs (32-24) have one more chance to put this piece of furniture on level ground. And so it was appropriate that Godwin spent two hours working with the pitchers on Monday.

“We’ve just got to put it all together,” said Godwin, in his first season at the helm of the Pirates. "We’ve got a brand-new season right here, starting Wednesday.”

May and travel have not worked well together for the Pirates, with two road series at Southern Miss and Memphis ending in sweeps for the opponents. The last home series, against UAB, showcased everything excellent about this ECU squad, and it was that version of the team that Godwin hopes will show up starting Wednesday in the C-USA tournament.

Although they left Memphis with no more victories than when they arrived and their worst regular-season record since 1998, the players made the transition to Houston and the conference showdown with plenty of optimism and confidence in their abilities, Godwin said.

“I think the morale of the team is fine,” he said. “I’m sure they’re disappointed with the way we finished, but right now is not the time to focus on what’s happened. It’s time to look at what’s going to happen.”

ECU has either defeated or played competitively against every conference opponent this season, Godwin said, and they have no reason to doubt that they could come out on top this week. With just 32 wins, they need to survive to the end to ensure their eighth consecutive NCAA regional bid.

The first step in the Pirates’ attempt to extend their season is Wednesday’s game against Tulane. Senior Brody Taylor, who holds the conference record for complete games with four and was named to second team All C-USA this week, will take the mound for the game.

Shane Mathews and Dustin Sasser are projected to start the Pirates’ possible next two games, which could be Thursday and Friday if they hit their stride.

ECU's postseason hopes will be pinned not only on the bullpen, but also on the bats of players like junior transfer Ryan Tousley, who has come on in the second half of the season with two home runs in the UAB series and two during Saturday’s loss at Memphis.

Tousley, who played his first two years at Johnson County Community College in Iowa, said that despite their losses, or maybe because of them, the Pirates have sharpened their focus in these crucial final weeks.

“Ever since the Southern Miss series, we’ve all had a sense of urgency,” said Tousley, who is batting .291 overall and .625 in his 10 appearances as a pinch hitter. “Any time a team is faced with adversity, you’re bound to come together.”

Tousley’s improvement at the plate is not a product of changes in mechanics, he said, but just a process of building on one successful at-bat after another until he expects his swing to produce results.

“I get in trouble when I try to do too much,” he said, “I just kind of focus on relaxing, seeing the ball, hitting the ball. It’s just one of those things. You start getting good swings, your confidence builds, your momentum builds.”

Tousley could be a microcosm for his team. The Pirates squad doesn’t need to make wholesale changes to make an eleventh hour run. They just need to build one triumph on another using the tools that have shined through in the best moments of this season.

“I really feel good,” Godwin said. “We just need to come in and compete.”

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02/23/2007 01:13:03 AM

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