03/24/10 — Wayne County's Wooten, Wright finding their niche with nationally-ranked ECU

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Wayne County's Wooten, Wright finding their niche with nationally-ranked ECU

By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on March 24, 2010 1:46 PM

John Wooten's adjustment to college baseball took all of one game watching from the dugout. In just his second collegiate contest and first at-bat, Wooten belted a two-run homer against then No. 2-ranked Virginia.

Wooten eventually homered in the first three games he played in an East Carolina uniform.

"Offensively, or on the position side of things, John Wooten has the most upside of any freshman offensively since I have been here," said Pirates head coach Billy Godwin. "I think he has a chance to have a special career at ECU, but the key for him is how quickly he adapts to the college game. I feel that we need to have him in the lineup for us to be successful this year."

Wooten has played 18 of 19 games thus far. The Eastern graduate is battling .338 with four home runs, 13 RBI and a .521 slugging average.

"I've just been working hard and things have been falling into place," said Wooten. "I've been fortunate to have a good start and I've been happy to contribute and to help the team win."

Known as a relentless worker during his time at Eastern Wayne, Wooten has transitioned seamlessly to the rigorous demands of college baseball. Where offseason conditioning and skill development was suggested but optional in high school, it's mandatory in college. The Pirates hit the weight room four days a week in the fall and twice a week during the season.

"You've always got to work hard," said Wooten. "The cream always rises toward the top. The attitude I took in high school is the same attitude I have here.

"Here, I'm in the cage with seven, eight or nine guys after practice where I might have been with two or three guys in high school. It's just one of those deals where you have to work hard."

For some college freshmen, maturity is developed through valuable game experience and the ups and downs that come with the grind of a long season.

Former Charles B. Aycock catcher Zach Wright said the opportunity to mature came not on the field, but rather through watching, learning and following the example of older teammates. Wright played sparingly but watched intently a year ago as then-junior catcher Jared Avchen led by example, and displayed a work ethic and attitude that caught Wright's attention.

"I've grown up a lot," said Wright. "The coaches have noticed I've grown up a lot. When I first got here I was just some random freshman that joked around too much. Now, I'm a sophomore that's been to a super regional and I've just grown up by watching Jared.

"I just try to work harder and harder."

Wright has worked tirelessly with Godwin and assistant coach Jeff Stevens on keeping pitches in the dirt in front of him and becoming a more well-rounded defensive catcher. That hard work has been rewarded with increased playing time this season.

He's seen action in 11 games including a start against South Carolina. Wright belted two home runs and drove in a career-best 4 RBI in the middle game of a three-game series against Monmouth (N.J.) College on Saturday.

Wright is hitting .400 with five home runs and 12 RBI.

"I've gained a lot of confidence," said Wright. "During a game against Virginia I was 0 for 2 and I struck out in a big situation. In the next game against Old Dominion I hit a home run and regained my confidence. It's a really good feeling."