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The Bradsher Beat
Friday, March 16, 2007

By Bethany Bradsher

Painful February stumble galvanized Pirates

By Bethany Bradsher
All rights reserved.

They may be rubbing shoulders with the big names in college baseball now, but the turning point of East Carolina's early season came after a shutout loss to Campbell.

It was in the wake of that 2-0 defeat on their home field on Feb. 21 that the seniors organized a team meeting. On the agenda? Rediscovering their drive and setting a new course for the remainder of the schedule.

The meeting was held behind closed doors, but the unified team that emerged has made itself known throughout the college baseball world.

After starting out with a 2-5 record, the Campbell loss and the subsequent revival led the Diamond Bucs to victories against schools like Duke and Pepperdine and sweeps of Cal State-Fullerton and Radford for a record of 13-6. This week the Pirates inched into the rankings at No. 25, and College Baseball Insider named ECU its team of the week for the week of March 5-11.

“We definitely knew that, when we lost to Campbell, that was kind of a wakeup call,” said junior outfielder Harrison Eldridge. “We needed to come together. We kind of just sat down in the locker room and said, we’re going to start over. We’re 0-0 right now. We’re not going to think about what happened in our first seven games, because that’s not East Carolina baseball. We knew we were better than that.”

The resulting boost in confidence not only led to an 11-1 streak since that meeting, it has given the Pirate offense a reputation for staring down some of the top pitchers in the nation. Wes Roemer from Cal State-Fullerton and Barry Enright from Pepperdine were both Preseason All-Americans, and Andrew Brackman from N.C. State was named ACC Pitcher of the Week in late February.

But to hitters like Eldridge, Ryan Tousley and Dale Mollenauer – with 46 RBI's combined – even the best pitcher can be rattled by power and consistency.

“You hear all these things in the media about how good these guys are, but like Coach Godwin said, none of these guys have ever won every game,” said Tousley, who is second on the team with four home runs this season. “They’ve all lost at some point. And we think we’re good enough hitters to go up there and play our game and do the things that we do well.”

The challenge continues this weekend when Michigan comes to Clark-LeClair Stadium for a three-game series. The Wolverines’ pitching staff is potent, with sophomore Zach Putnam projected as the 2007 Big Ten Player of the Year and Chris Fetter being named to the watch list for the preseason Clemens Award.

But as tentative as they might have felt early in the season, the Pirate sluggers now have the assurance that they can achieve a mental edge against a top pitcher and effectively take him out of the game.

“We’ve (competed) against the best, and we’ve done well against the best,” Tousley said. ‘Obviously, they’re not going to get any better than the best, so I think we’ll be all right.”

For the Pirate pitching staff, the fireworks at the plate mean they can be more laidback when they stop on the mound. It’s a sign of a healthy team when no one aspect of the game is expected to carry the day, said ECU pitcher T.J. Hose, who is scheduled to start tonight against Michigan.

“It just takes a lot of pressure off of you,” Hose said. “You don’t try to be too fine out there. You just go right at them and let your defense work, and try to get your team back in the dugout as soon as possible.”

From head coach Billy Godwin’s perspective, one of the main differences since the Campbell game is that the excuses have stopped. During that team meeting, he talked about accountability and leadership, he said. They are favorite concepts of many coaches, but this time the audience was ready to take the lessons to heart.

“They just decided to step it up,” Godwin said. “I don’t think our team changed physically overnight. I think what changed is their attitude.”

“We’re just playing with a lot more confidence out there, and coming in with a chip on our shoulder, like expecting to win each day,” said Hose.

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03/16/2007 12:13:39 AM

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