12/11/08 — Wooten and Gourley sign with East Carolina

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Wooten and Gourley sign with East Carolina

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on December 11, 2008 1:46 PM

Two athletes confident in their respective abilities, who each have baseball pedigrees, won't part their separate ways after high school graduation.

No sir.

Eastern Wayne seniors John Wooten and Walker Gourley will continue their careers at East Carolina University. Each signed a national letter-of-intent and is part of a phenomenal 11-player recruiting class, which is touted as one of the top groups assembled by head coach Billy Godwin.

"This is an exceptional class ... players who have the ability to help our program compete for championships," said Godwin. "We are extremely excited about this class. (It) definitely has the talent that (will) complement our returning 2010 team."

Wooten and Gourley can't wait.

"Coach Godwin coached my brother (Graham) at Louisburg and that was a huge influence," said Wooten, the reigning News-Argus Player of the Year. "Graham has been a big influence ever since I started playing baseball and there is a lot of stuff I've learned from him."

Gourley verbally committed before Wooten. While the Pirates' baseball program undoubtedly factored into his decision, Gourley was also swayed by the School of Education.

"It offers the major I want," said Gourley, whose dad John played for the Canadian National Team. "The coaching staff is very good and they're committed to what they're trying to do, and I believe in that. The job they've done with our freshman class is great.

"ECU is on the way up."

One of five Conference USA teams to appear in the NCAA Tournament last season, East Carolina fashioned a 42-21 record and was ranked as high as No. 21 in the national polls. The Pirates drew a No. 2 seed for the Conway Regional, but lost on the final day.

Overall, CUSA teams combined to have a record 37 players selected in the Major League Baseball draft in June, including two first-round picks.

"It's only a matter of time before they get to Omaha because he's too crazy about it," said Wooten of Godwin. "He wakes up in the morning thinking that and goes to sleep at night thinking that. That's the kind of coach I want to be around.

"They eat, drink, live and breathe it."

But dreams of reaching college baseball's mecca remain a fantasy for Wooten and Gourley. A pair of all-Eastern Carolina 3-A Conference performers last season, the twosome has some unfinished business on the high school scene.

Eastern Wayne is projected to return nine players off last year's team which posted a 21-7 campaign with head coach Jabo Fulghum. The Warriors claimed the program's first conference championship since 1989 and advanced to the third round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association playoffs.

Gourley batted .407, slugged eight home runs and collected 22 stolen bases. Wooten scorched opposing pitchers for a .551 average that included 49 hits, 46 RBI and nine home runs. He was named the ECC player of the year.

"It's a different role because we're seniors now," said Wooten, whose dad Sonny played at ECU and spent time in the Kansas City Royals organization. "We're going to push people to do things right and when we're doing things wrong, we'll let them know what's being done wrong."

Gourley agreed.

"If we keep working hard, we can be very good," said Gourley. "Top to bottom, our chemistry is already where it needs to be. We're coming together and working hard. We want to do big things this year, that's for sure."

Fulghum said Gourley's greatest asset is his versatility and knowledge of the game. Wooten's size and power, according to Fulghum, should pay dividends in 2009 and in college.

"Walker and John were leaders on our team as juniors and they definitely will lead us this year," said Fulghum. "Their work habits filter down to their teammates. They both will excel in college because of their will, ability and determination to succeed."

ECU is a good place to start.