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The Bradsher Beat
Sunday, June 29, 2008

By Bethany Bradsher

Baseball thrives without caste system

By Bethany Bradsher
All rights reserved.

There is a university near the coast with an enrollment fast approaching 24,000. A public school affiliated with a large statewide network of colleges, this school started as a teacher’s college in the early 1900's.

The school's sports teams play in a large non-BCS conference, and for decades no men’s team from this school ever won a national championship.

Until Wednesday.

When Fresno State defeated Georgia 6-1 to become the top team in college baseball, it fanned a flame under East Carolina and any other non-BCS school committed to the belief that championship glory can indeed come to an underdog with sufficient gumption and talent.

Granted, the Bowl Championship Series designation is officially related to a school's football affiliation, but membership in one of those vaunted conferences is often emblematic of success in other arenas. The national college basketball champion, for example, has come from a BCS school for the past 17 years.

The good news, said ECU coach Billy Godwin, is that baseball doesn’t subscribe to such expectations. The Diamond Bucs have always considered themselves on equal footing with any opponent, no matter how deep the pockets or white hot the spotlight on said opponent’s athletic program.

“For me, when you talk about the BCS, you can throw that out the window in baseball,” Godwin said.

Of course, that doesn’t discount the value of the Fresno State title as a motivational device for any coach who has ever wanted to convince a team of its staying power.

The Bulldogs entered their regional as a fourth seed with 31 losses, more than any other national champion in history. They had to win the WAC tournament even to make it to the NCAA postseason. Fresno State went on to win their way to the College World Series, and Godwin thinks that when they made it to Omaha they may have already celebrated their status as overachievers.

“I’m sure they were tickled just to get to Omaha,” he said. “Then, to turn around and win the national championship, I thought that was a great story.

“Every four seed in the NCAA will be talking about Florida State.”

The Bulldogs had the raw talent to make it to the postseason, but the most important dynamic – a factor that can’t be underestimated in baseball – was their perfectly-timed winning streak.

The run didn't come early in the season, when they lost 12 out of their first 20 games. But when the NCAA tournament rolled around, Fresno State found itself unable to lose.

“To me, it’s about having a good club, and then you get hot at the right time,” Godwin said. “We just have to keep getting to regionals and knocking on the door.”

Part of preparation for that next NCAA regional, for about 10 Pirate players, is a full summer schedule in a league like the Coastal Plains League or the Cape Cod League.

Four ECU players are competing in Coastal Plains, and three – Stephen Batts, Kyle Roller and Trent Ashcraft – were selected for Cape Cod, the most prestigious summer league.

Three other Pirates are playing in other intercollegiate leagues, and the extra innings are helping develop their skills for the NCAA.

But Godwin doesn’t recommend summer league play for every player on his team, especially those who were starters in the spring. For a player like freshman pitcher Seth Maness, who pitched 98 innings and was named to four All-America squads for his 2008 performance, a summer of resting his arm is far more beneficial than games every night.

“We talk to each of them about the summer, and for some we think it’s better for them to have the time off,” Godwin said.

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06/28/2008 01:30:18 AM

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