02/19/10 — Challenging schedule awaits East Carolina

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Challenging schedule awaits East Carolina

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on February 19, 2010 3:05 PM

East Carolina didn't always sail smooth waters at different points last season, but the Pirates did collect some quality booty -- a Conference USA regular-season championship and the Greenville Regional title over nemesis South Carolina.

Plundering and pillaging opposing teams pitching staffs enabled the perennial powerhouse to record 46 victories and rack up numerous postseason accolades in 2009.

Nine starters and 31 letterwinners return to the ship. The crew will once again encounter short raids, but also prepare for a long voyage that hopefully ends in Omaha. The Pirates' schedule includes five teams nationally-ranked in three preseason polls, and a host of other foes who floated into NCAA regional ports a year ago.

"We have been able to put together another great schedule for the 2010 season that consists of some of the top teams across the country," said fifth-year ECU head coach Billy Godwin. "When we recruit student-athletes to East Carolina, we talk about putting them on a national stage. The conference schedule allows us to do that, and I also think it's important to go out in non-conference and play some of the top teams nationally during those five weeks away from league play.

"For the first month of the season, our guys will be on a national stage playing some of the best teams in the country."

East Carolina, ranked No. 18 by Collegiate Baseball and Baseball America, opens its season at home today with a weekend series against No. 2-ranked Virginia. First pitch is 3 p.m. on the Clark-LeClair Stadium diamond.

The Wahoos advanced to Omaha last season.

Godwin will have a tough task of replacing four great hitters lost to the Major League Amateur draft -- Ryan Wood, Stephen Batts, Brandon Henderson and Drew Schieber. Each batted over .300 and helped ECU rank among the national leaders in eight offensive categories.

There are plenty of cannons left in the Pirates' arsenal.

Devin Harris, drafted in the eighth round last summer, crushed 14 home runs and sparked ECU to the Greenville Regional crown. Kyle Roller, a preseason All-American, played in the prestigious Cape Cod League this past summer and is unarguably the best amateur hitter in the country.

Junior outfielder Trent Whitehead, another preseason All-American, cranked out a single-season 105 hits in 2009.

Godwin added that "players like Corey Thompson, Cam Freeman, John Wooten and Bryan Bass can come in and play right behind the guys we lost." Wooten helped lead Eastern Wayne to a runner-up finish in the N.C. High School Athletic Association 3-A championship series last summer.

Jared Avchen returns behind the plate and Austin Homan, the Pirates' "10th Man" last spring, comes back after hitting .367 in a reserve role.

Weekend hurlers Seth Maness, Kevin Brandt and Brad Mincey anchor the pitching staff along with bullpen mates Patrick Somers, Mike Wright and closer Seth Simmons. The group combined for 37 wins last season, giving Godwin his most-experienced -- and deepest -- pitching staff he's had in Greenville.

Two key newcomers are freshman southpaw Tyler Joyner, who was drafted by the Cleveland Indians and freshman righty Joseph Hughes, who was courted by Washington Nationals. Joyner guided Northern Nash to runner-up appearances in the NCHSAA eastern 3-A regionals in 2007 and 2009.

"Putting together pitching depth like we have this season is something that we have tried to build since I got here, and we realize that you have to be able to pitch to get to Omaha," said Godwin. "Team chemistry is crucial (too). We have a great group of guys and the feedback that I have gotten from our older players and leaders is this team has the best chemistry of any squad we have had since I've been here."