Pirates look to run under the radar

ECU hopes to make it back to the postseason

Staff WriterFebruary 16, 2011 

— This year's East Carolina baseball squad might not resemble the high-power teams of recent vintage, but it shouldn't be hurt too much by the new NCAA specifications for metal bats that are expected to remove a lot of the power from the game.

"I like this team," Pirates coach Billy Godwin said. "I think it's a different type of team. ... This team has the athleticism to score and strike in many ways. We have guys that can hit for an average that have average to above average speed."

Godwin has put increased emphasis in practice on defense and manufacturing runs.

That's a change from his teams that hit around 100 home runs for several years in a row.

"There's not going to be any waiting around to see if we get the big three-run home run or grand slam," said senior Trent Whitehead, one of a handful of Pirates who should still provide some power. "You've got to capitalize and get things going."

What's more, Godwin's pitching staff is experienced, perhaps the most experienced it has ever been.

"We're very deep on the mound," Godwin said. "We've got some experience, and we've added enough depth in the interim to really make me excited."

This all figures to help a team that failed to qualify for postseason play after losing four players to suspensions and dismissals in the middle of last season for undisclosed reasons, per federal student privacy laws.

"It was kind of a let-down," senior pitcher Seth Maness said. "Those people that got kicked off and whatever happened. We could never really get back on track. That kind of affected everybody, myself included. It didn't feel like the team was clicking."

Godwin said even with all the distractions, he never felt like the team (32-27 in 2010) gave up.

"We were within an out or two of the conference championship game," he said. "That speaks volumes about how the guys pulled it together in the end. But close doesn't get you anything in this game."

Added Whitehead: "Guys realized they have to be accountable for their mistakes."

Godwin stressed that with 13 new players, he hasn't dwelled much on the past.

"We haven't talked a lot about last year," he said. "We talk a lot in baseball about having amnesia. So we're going to have amnesia and move on."

Last year's team entered the season ranked in many preseason polls, which isn't the case this year.

"We're fired up about flying under the radar," said senior outfielder Austin Homan, who was chosen to wear No. 23 in honor of late ECU coach Keith LeClair, who died of Lou Gehrig's disease. "Right now, we don't have any targets on our back. Hopefully, by the end of the year, we will have targets on our back."

Even without a preseason ranking, it won't be easy. Godwin, as usual, has put together another difficult non-conference schedule to test his squad, with an away series at Virginia and Pepperdine coming to Greenville.

"We've got to prepare our kids," Godwin said. "I want to play the best people I can possibly play outside of our league."

That could be a good test for a team with the talent and potential to get back to postseason play.

"This team is going to be able to pitch, throw strikes, play defense and, I think, we're going to be able to create some pressure offensively," Godwin said.

But there's a lot of baseball to be played.

"Of course, we want to win the conference and we want to play in Omaha," Whitehead said. "But opening day is [Friday] and it's a long season. We're just taking it one game at a time right now."

javier.serna@newsobserver.com or 919-836-4953

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