Observations and Punditry
Monday, February 6, 2006
By Woody Peele
PRESEASON BASEBALL PREVIEW
Godwin working to build on
In just a few short days, a new era will
open at East Carolina University as new head coach Bill Godwin opens the
2006 baseball season at Clark-LeClair Stadium.
Billy Godwin, the new man at the helm of the East
Carolina baseball program, hopes to meld his own
influences into the Pirates' winning tradition.
(Photo: ECU Media Relations)
Godwin, who joined the Pirate staff as an
assistant coach after a successful tenure at Louisburg Junior College,
was bumped up to the head job after Randy Mazey resigned in the midst of
The new coach feels that the transition
has gone well for the most part.
“Not having been the head coach at the
start (of fall practice) and having to implement the little things that
I believe in has been a little bit of a problem,” Godwin said. “But
baseball is baseball and what they have been doing here has been
successful. There are just some things that I want to instill in our
players that I feel comfortable with.”
Godwin said he feels he has established a
good rapport with his players.
“I’ve always prided myself as a players’
type coach," he said. "I want to keep open the lines of communications
(with the team), and I get constant feedback through meetings with the
He’s also looking forward to Friday’s
opening game against Maryland, a three-game series that runs through
“We still have some work to do and have
some precious practice days left,” Godwin said. “But I feel very, very
positive about where we are. A lot of our guys have gotten a lot better
in their off-season workouts and it’s showed in our early practices.”
Last season’s team hit at a .306 clip, but
of the eight individuals who hit over .300, only three return: Adam
Witter (.328), Dale Mollenhauer (.327) and Harrison Eldridge (.313).
“It’s hard for me to judge (how last year
and this year compare) since I wasn’t here,” Godwin said. “I know we
lost some good players who put up good numbers. But overall, I feel very
good going into the spring about our one through six hitters. And over
the last two weeks, I feel a lot better about seven through nine.
“To be a really good, you can’t afford to
have a lot of outs in your lineup at this level,” he added. “And when I
make up our lineup, I know I’m going to be screwing somebody because we
have 10 or 12 who can get the job done — and you know you have a good
lineup when you have trouble making it out.”
Godwin also believes there is some power
in the lineup.
“We have three or four who can sit in the
middle of the lineup and put up power numbers, and we’ve got guys like
(Dale) Mollenhauer and (Harrison) Eldridge who could be table-setters.
“We’re not going to swing for the downs
one through nine, but I like the way our team is shaping up.”
The Pirates will also be a running team.
“If you’ve seen my teams,” the coach said,
“you know I emphasize base-running. But you have to be smart enough to
coach the guys. I think we have people who can put up numbers. We want
to be aggressive, force pressure and I want people in the middle of our
lineup who can hit away and move runners up. We’ll have to pick and
choose depending on the situation.”
When the Pirates are in the field, Godwin
again sees good things.
“I’ve been impressed with our defense,” he
said. “In the outfield, Harrison, Jamie Ray and Jay Mattox are guys who
can run balls down and go get them.”
In the infield, Godwin calls Mollenhauer
at shortstop as solid as it gets and, notes Godwin, “Stephen Batts and
Chris Buss have shown great flashes in the middle.”
While there is still some uncertainty as
to who will draw the starting assignments on Friday, the coach listed
“Jake Smith (catcher, .259) has had a
great off-season, coming off an injury," Godwin said. "Adam Witter could
hold down first. Second is a toss-up between Batts and Buss, while
Mollenhauer will be at short with Ryan Wood backing him up. (JC
transfer) Jake Dean will be at third.”
In addition to Eldridge, Mattox and Ray,
Brandon Henderson and Ryan Tousley will likely see some action, if not
in the field, as the designated hitter. Adam Hodges, a back-up catcher,
could also find himself in the DH spot.
Last year, the pitching staff found itself
crippled early on by injuries to Shane Matthews, Brody Taylor, Carter
Harrell and Dustin Sasser.
But that proved to be a mixed blessing.
While the staff struggled early, several of the young pitchers came on
strong as the season went along, and — barring a return of those injury
woes — the Pirates should have much more depth.
ECU lost three hurlers, two of whom were
the No. 1 and 2 pitchers at the end of the year — Ricky Brooks, signed
by the Chicago White Sox, and P.J. Connelly, who graduated. Brett
But T.J. Hose (7-4, 4.43 ERA) and Mike
Flye (6-5, 6.48) lead the group that did see action.
With the other four in good physical shape
now, it bodes well for the Pirates.
“They’re healthy now, yes,” Godwin said.
“Healthy to me is to be back and able to do what healthy guys can do on
a regular basis with no pain. Whether they are 100 percent back, that
still has to be proven, but I feel like they are in the right direction.
All should throw on a regular basis and they should be as good as or
better than they were before last year.
“The experience the others gained in their
absence will deepen our staff, guys like Flye (5-3, 4.80) and Kevin
Rhodes (3-1, 4.76), who will be our closer,” Godwin added.
Among the newcomers, Godwin likes Josh
Dowdy and Michael Hill.
“Those two guys could win 10 to 15 games
between them,” Godwin said. “That’s a bold statement for freshmen, but
we want to be real careful early on not to throw them into the fire
before they get their feet under them. If they stay healthy, they could
be as good a quality as anyone at East Carolina.”
The schedule is once again a tough one.
Chief among the non-conference opponents is Cal State Fullerton, a
College World Series veteran team. ECU visits the Titans for three games
on March 10-12.
“You look to go out there and compete,”
Godwin said. “Sometimes competing means more than winning. If we can get
across the country with jet lag and compete with one of the best
programs in the country, it will be really good for us.”
Then, in Conference USA, the Pirates will
have to take on the likes of CWS-steeped teams Rice and Tulane among
“Conference USA is a very good league,”
Godwin said. “I understand the league RPI is fourth or fifth in the
For seven straight years, East Carolina
has qualified for the NCAA Regionals. The goal, once more, is to make it
eight in a row, and this time earn a trip to Omaha.
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