2008 East Carolina Baseball Preview Pirates Excited About he Prospects of Upcoming Season
Feb. 15, 2008
Coming off a year where the East Carolina baseball team finished second in the Conference USA regular season, reached the C-USA Tournament Championship game and made its eighth NCAA Regional appearance in the last nine seasons, third-year head coach Billy Godwin will look to steer the Pirate ship once again into post-season play.
With the loss of seven seniors and two key juniors from last year's squad that posted a 40-23 record, Godwin will turn to a healthy mix of veterans and newcomers to take the next step of reaching their goal of the College World Series.
The 2008 Pirates will play 34 games in Lewis Field at Clark-LeClair Stadium, which includes 13 consecutive home games from March 7-26, as well as the Fifth Annual Keith LeClair Classic. This year's event will pit the Pirates against Pittsburgh, nationally-ranked Michigan and Georgia Southern.
Also on the 2008 docket are 20 games against 13 different teams that participated in the 2007 NCAA Tournament, which include Super Regional teams Michigan, South Carolina and Rice (2003 National Champions).
Senior T.J. Hose will enter the season as the Pirates Friday night starter for the third straight season. Hose, who was named first-team preseason All Conference USA (coaches) and was named to the 2008 Brooks Wallace Player-of-the-Year Award Preseason Watch List, posted a 6-5 ledger as a junior with a 3.97 ERA allowing 50 runs and was a second-team All C-USA performer.
Battling for spots in the weekend and midweek rotation are a pair of transfers in Justin Bristow (Auburn) and Matt Cox (North Carolina). During his sophomore campaign, Bristow was used exclusively on the mound, pitching in 16 games with four starts, posting a 1-6 record with one save in 30 innings.
Cox, a 6-2 left-hander, has appeared in 31 career collegiate games, mostly out of the bull pen, posting a 2-0 record with a 7.41 ERA in 17 innings. He has pitched in three post-season games which includes a pair of appearances in the 2007 College World Series.
Also vying for spots in the rotation are true freshmen in Matt Laney, Seth Maness and Sthil Sowers.
Junior Bailey Daniels gets the nod as the closer this season. After spending his sophomore season as a starter then in the bullpen as a set up man, Daniels will look to fill the void left by former closer Shane Mathews who was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in `07. Daniels appeared in 27 games with five starts, posting a 4-1 record with a 4.53 ERA and 46 strikeouts in 49.2 innings of work. As a reliever he had an impressive 2.84 ERA with 30 punch-outs to just six walks.
The senior duo of Brett Butts (right-hander) and Josh Ruhlman (left-hander) will serve as Daniels set-up men. Butts appeared in 21 games, sported a team-best 1.77 ERA and allowed four runs in 20.1 innings. Ruhlman made 27 appearances with a 5-1 mark in 29.1 innings allowing 11 walks and striking out 23. Both could also see time in the closers role during midweek action.
Transfer Daniel Holder, who has started and relieved at Lurleen Wallace State College, could also see action as a possible set-up man to Daniels. With his outstanding makeup, Holder could also experience game action in the closers role during midweek games.
Rookies Zack Cooper, Brad Mincey, Seth Simmons and Shane Small all hold a great deal of promise and should battel for relief innings as freshmen.
Starting second baseman Ryan Wood will see playing time on the mound coming out of the bullpen.
Senior Corey Kemp will once again start behind the plate for the Pirates. He hit .267 a year ago with five home runs and 41 RBI. The Franklin, Tenn. native will likely see action in the box for all weekend series games. A year ago he threw out 11 base runners and recorded a .977 fielding percentage. Kemp, one of three team captains, garnered All-Regional Team honors after batting a team-best .566 with a home run and five RBI.
Drew Schieber, ECU's top utility player, is penciled in as the top back-up heading into the season and will likely see action in midweek games and could see spot starts on the weekend. A year ago Schieber batted .301 in 55 games with six home runs, 22 RBI, scored 33 runs and swiped 11-of-15 bases.
Redshirt freshman Bobby Fowler, who was limited in action a year ago due to injury, is also vying for action as a back-up. Last year Fowler played in five games, primarily used as a pinch hitter before his injury sidelined him for the season.
True freshman Matt Hancock (Middletown, Conn.) will also be in the mix to see action behind the plate.
Junior Stephen Batts is the returning starter at first base but could also play in right or left field. He established a new school record by hitting safely in 29 consecutive games to close out the 2007 season, breaking Steve Sides record of 28 games in 1987. The Wilmington, N.C. native's active streak, which started on April 13, was the fifth longest streak in 2007 and he will enter the '08 season with the second longest active streak. The top returning hitter from a year ago, Batts batted .323 with six home runs, 56 RBI, 15 doubles, drove in 43 runs and swiped 12 bases. Garnered preseason first-team All Conference USA honors as an infielder (coaches) and was named to the 2008 Brooks Wallace Player-of-the-Year Award Preseason Watch List.
If Batts plays in right or left, sophomore Kyle Roller will likely get the nod at first after batting .306 last year. The Rockingham, N.C. native cranked 11 home runs, which tied for the team lead, in 111 at-bats. Over the summer and fall, he has improved his defensive skills and presents Coach Godwin with a suitable replacement at first. Roller's primary role this season should be as the Pirates top designated hitter.
Alpharetta, Ga. product Brandon Henderson, who also can play in the outfield, will add depth at first base. In 2007, he started 11 games at first and 28 in left, batting .241 with six home runs and 23 RBI.
Junior Ryan Wood and sophomore Broc Sutton are slated to be the Pirates starting middle infielders in 2008. Wood, a rangy and athletic second baseman/ shortstop, gets the nod at second to open the season. As a sophomore he batted .318 with five home runs, 23 RBI, nine doubles, scored 41 runs and ranked second on the squad with 14 stolen bases.
After spending much of the 2007 season in a reserve role as a true freshman, Sutton will contend for the starting role along with Schieber replacing Dale Mollenhauer. As an infielder, he is very sound defensively with accurate throwing range to first from any of the infield positions. In the batters box, the Edenton, N.C. native is a tough left-handed hitter that can spray the ball all over the field.
Freshman Dustin Harrington along with Schieber will back up Wood and Sutton in the middle infield. Harrington is a hard nosed infielder who has a strong accurate throw to first from second and short. He has good speed, can hit for average and has surprising power for his size. As a sophomore, Schieber started 21 of his 55 games at second base.
Justin Bristow will be patrolling the hot corner in 2008. The junior transfer has outstanding defensive actions, is an advanced hitter that can hit for power, average, as well as move runners around the bags. As a true freshman at Auburn, he batted .255 with 13 RBI, eight doubles and scored 22 runs.
When Bristow in on the bump, Godwin can turn to veteran utility man Drew Schieber or true freshman Cameron Freeman (Stedman, N.C.) as a suitable replacement. Schieber started 20 of his 45 games at third last season.
Senior Harrison Eldridge is back as the starter in center field after batting .295 with six home runs and 28 RBI as a first-team all-conference performer. The table setter of Godwin's lineup a year ago, Eldridge was named preseason first-team All C-USA by league coaches and SEBaseball.com in 2008. As a junior, he scored 58 runs, walked 31 times and stole a team-best 15 bases.
Moving over from left to right field will be three-year letterwinner Jamie Ray, who started 27 of his 50 games played last season in left. The Casar, N.C. native batted .306 with two home runs, 22 RBI and 24 runs scored. He uses the field well, able to hit for average with surprising power and with his speed can make things happen on the base paths.
Trent Ashcraft gets the nod as the starting left fielder heading into the season. Last year Ashcraft redshirted during initial season in the Pirates' program. The junior has tremendous speed, is a good left-handed hitter that uses the field well and will most likely hit in the top of the order.
Adding depth in the outfield will be Henderson, Batts, Jonathan Ratledge and three talented freshmen in Devin Harris, Austin Homan and Trent Whitehead. Harris, Henderson and Ratledge are also candidates to see time at designated hitter.