06/01/12 — Last-day win over UAB extended East Carolina's season

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Last-day win over UAB extended East Carolina's season

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on June 1, 2012 1:49 PM

GREENVILLE -- It can't end here. We're not ready to stop playing.

John Wooten and his East Carolina teammates shared those thoughts before they took the field against UAB on day four of the Conference USA baseball tournament. Wooten knew the outcome would decide the Pirates' postseason fate.

The Pirates played with emotion, battled on every pitch and claimed a 10-3 victory that sweltering afternoon in Mississippi.

But had they done enough?

They waited two agonizing days to learn their fate.

The answer finally came Monday afternoon when East Carolina drew an at-large bid and the No. 2 seed for the Chapel Hill Regional. The Pirates (35-22-1 overall) opened play this morning against third-seeded St. John's.

North Carolina, the No. 7 national seed, played fourth-seeded Cornell in the second game. The double-elimination regional continues through Sunday.

"That (UAB win) was huge," a relieved Wooten said. "If we had lost that game, we wouldn't be talking about the NCAA tournament right now. We all knew that would be the deciding factor about our season. We played hard and things took care of itself."

The Pirates and Red Storm met twice in the Charlottesville (Va.) Regional a year ago. St. John's dropped Wooten and his teammates into the losers' bracket, but they repaid the favor the next day by eliminating the Big East squad.

ECU has struggled with consistency this season and has emerged victorious in just three of its last nine outings. When the Pirates execute in all three phases of the game, they're tough to beat. When they don't, the wheels fall off the wagon.

"It's one of those things that if we pitch good, we can't hit," Wright said. "If we hit good, we can't pitch. It's been either one or the other (this season). We figured it out in the conference tournament and hopefully we can put it together in Chapel Hill."

Wright and Wooten have each started and played in 56 games this spring.

Wooten, who earned first-team All-CUSA accolades, has compiled a .341 batting average and belted a team-best eight home runs. The Eastern Wayne alum shares the team lead in RBI (38) with Wright and Corey Thompson.

"I just focus on playing hard every day, do whatever I can to help the team win on that particular day," Wooten said.

A senior catcher, Wright is hitting .295 and ranks second on the team behind Wooten with five home runs. But the Aycock alum's main responsibility is to reign in a pitching staff that has logged a team earned run average of 3.20 heading into the regional.

Wright, a second-team All-CUSA selection, has posted the third-best fielding average (.995) among ECU starters this season. His 387 putouts behind the plate is a team high and he's committed just two errors in 428 attempts.

"I'm really just trying to be a leader to the young guys on the team," Wright said. "(My) batting average is up and strikeouts are down, so that's good. I'm trying not to do too much with the ball ... kind of slowing it down, being more of a control hitter.

"The pitching staff ... just really need to calm them down, stay with them and don't let the game speed up on them too much. I just need to make them realize there's really no difference in this game (today)."

First-team All-CUSA pick Kevin Brandt is slated to start the regional opener. The 6-foot-2 southpaw from Fuquay-Varina is 7-6 with a 1.85 ERA.