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Observations and Punditry

Woody's Ramblings
Monday, February 6, 2006

By Woody Peele


Godwin working to build on program's success


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 fall practice.

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 captains.”

He’s also looking forward to Friday’s opening game against Maryland, a three-game series that runs through Sunday.

“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 his front-runners.

“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 Braxton transferred.

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 others.

“Conference USA is a very good league,” Godwin said. “I understand the league RPI is fourth or fifth in the country.”

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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02/23/2007 02:44:21 PM

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