2009 East Carolina Baseball Preview
Feb. 17, 2009
Coming off a year where the East Carolina baseball team made its second consecutive NCAA Regional appearance (ninth in the last 10 years) and reached the Conway Regional Finals, fourth-year head coach Billy Godwin once again will look to steer the Pirate ship into post-season play.
With the loss of six seniors and one junior from last year's squad that posted its second consecutive 40-win season (42-21), the Pirates return 22 lettermen to go along with 13 newcomers and look to take the next step of reaching their goal of the College World Series.
Nineteen teams on this year's docket recorded 30 or more wins a season ago with nine of them topping the 40-win plateau; 11 schools earned a bid to participate in the NCAA Regional in 2008 with a pair making it to the College World Series (North Carolina and Rice), while four finished ranked in the Baseball America and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA) Top 25 polls.
The Pirates will open the 2009 campaign on Friday, Feb. 20 against Monmouth in a three-game tilt and will stay home for their next five games, which includes a midweek match-up with Oklahoma State (Feb. 26), the LeClair Classic (Feb. 27-Mar. 1) and Old Dominion (Mar. 3).
Conference USA play opens March 20 for the Pirates when they welcome league foe UCF to town for a three-game series. Other C-USA schools making the trek to Greenville in 2009 include 2008 College World Series participant and C-USA regular season champion Rice (Apr. 10-12), Southern Miss (Apr. 24-26) and Memphis (May 14-16).
League road trips include Marshall (Mar. 27-29), UAB (Apr. 3-5), Tulane (Apr. 17-19) and 2008 C-USA Tournament Champion Houston (May 8-10).
ECU's home non-conference schedule is highlighted by the annual Keith LeClair Classic that pits the Pirates against St. John's (Feb. 27), Oklahoma State (Feb. 28) and College of Charleston (Mar. 1). Also scheduled for weekend series' in Greenville are 2008 NCAA Regional participants UCLA (Mar. 13-15) and Louisiana-Lafayette (May 1-3), while UNC-Asheville (Mar. 10-11) comes to town for a pair of weekday contests.
The Pirates will have a home-and-home series against Campbell (Mar. 24 and Apr. 14), Elon (Mar. 28, Apr. 21 and 28), North Carolina (Apr. 7 and 22), N.C. State (Apr. 1 and 15) and UNC-Wilmington (Mar. 25, Apr. 8 and May 12), while also matching up against Norfolk State (Mar. 18). Their lone non-conference weekend trip takes them to Statesboro, Ga. to participate in Georgia Southern's annual baseball tournament with games against Le Moyne (Mar. 6), Indiana (Mar. 7) and the Eagles (Mar. 8).
Junior College transfer Chris Heston has the inside edge as the Saturday guy heading into the season. The right-hander from Seminole Community College brings a wealth of experience to the mound, where he started 16-of-28 career games posting an 8-9 record fanning 88 hitters in 107 2/3 innings of work with a 4.76 ERA.
Battling for the final weekend spot is a pair of sophomore right-handers in Mike Anderson and Sthil Sowers. Anderson, one of four team captains, returns to the mound after sitting out the entire 2008 season following Tommy John surgery. As a true freshman, he made six starts posting a 1-1 record with 13 punch outs in 24.0 innings. Just like Anderson, Sowers brings experience to the weekend rotation after making 10 starts in 15 appearances a year ago as a true freshman. The Grifton, N.C. native posted a 4-4 record, notched one save and fanned 37 while walking 20 in 58.0 innings. Last year he picked up Conference USA Pitcher-of-the-Week honors after tossing a complete game against in-state rival and No. 27 UNC Wilmington.
Also vying for spots in the rotation are true freshmen Shawn Armstrong (New Bern, N.C.), Lance Honeycutt (Coats, N.C.), Patrick Somers (Chantilly, Va.), while Britton Cole, Brad Mincey and Michael Wright (Laurinburg, N.C.) could all see spot start action.
A healthy Bailey Daniels has pitching coach Bill Jarman excited about his set-up men. Penciled in as the closer last season, Daniels was limited in action due to a preseason injury, but the Wanchese, N.C. native has put that behind him and will be counted on as the top set-up man for Simmons and Wood. A year ago he appeared in just 15 games, all out of the pen, where he posted a 1-0 ledger with 11 strikeouts and six walks.
Sophomore utility pitcher Brad Mincey will battle for late innings as well as seeing spot start action during the midweek. A year ago he appeared in 27 games with a pair of starts on his way to a 3-3 record. The right-hander registered one of ECU's six saves on the season, while striking out 36 and walking 20 in 56.0 innings.
Also seeing action out of the bullpen will be a pair of freshman lefties in Kevin Brandt (Fuquay Varina, N.C.) and Mark Wilder (Greenville, N.C.).
Avchen comes to ECU after spending his freshman year at the University of Alabama and last year at Seminole Community College (teammate of Chris Hesston). The Palm Bay, Fla. native started 41-of-44 games behind the dish where he batted .320 (47-for-147) with eight home runs, 38 RBI and 31 runs scored.
During his freshman season, Fowler gained valuable experience appearing in 25 games (seven starts) mostly in the late innings as a pinch runner.
True freshman Zach Wright (Goldsboro, N.C.) will also be in the mix to see action behind the plate.
Backing up Henderson at first will be 2008 All C-USA Tournament selection Kyle Roller. The left-handed power slugger blasted a career-best 12 home runs, with 50 RBI, 11 doubles, while scoring 42 runs and batting .299. Although Roller could see action at first, his primary role this season will once again be as the Pirates top designated hitter.
Harrington, who earned C-USA All-Freshman Team honors in 2008, started 56-of-59 games played with 35 starts coming at short. The hard-nosed middle infielder, who batted .320 a year ago with four home runs and 42 RBI, is a solid defensive infielder with a strong and accurate arm that can hit for average and power.
Junior Broc Sutton is very sound defensively with an accurate throwing range to first from any of the infield positions. In the batter's box, the Edenton, N.C. native is a tough left-handed hitter that can spray the ball all over the field.
Cameron Freeman, who played in seven games as a true freshman, is versatile enough play either of the middle infield positions, as well as third base and will be counted on along with freshman Brett Bowers (Fairfax, Va.) to backup both Wood and Harrington.
True freshman Corey Thompson could see a lot of action at third as Schieber's top back-up. The Apex, N.C. native is a skilled infielder that can hit the ball to all fields and has shown the ability to hit for power.
A pair of sophomore's in Trent Whitehead and Devin Harris will battle for the right field position vacated by two-time All-NCAA Regional performer Jamie Ray. Last year Whitehead started 22-of-51 games where he batted .273 with three home runs, 15 RBI and swiped five bases. The Washington, N.C. native most likely will be penciled in at the nine-hole of the order giving the Pirates a pair of speedsters at the top and the bottom of the lineup. Harris, who played in 11 games as a redshirt freshman, batted just .167 with two RBI, but his ability to hit for power and his speed has put him a position to play every day. Harris could also see action as a designated hitter, backing up Roller.
Returning to left field will be 2008 All C-USA performer Stephen Batts, where he made 32 of his 63 starts last season. Just like a majority of ECU's returning starters, Batts recorded career-highs in home runs (10), hits (80), runs (65) and stolen bases (14) while batting .333 with 13 doubles. One of four team captains in 2009, Batts has picked up preseason first-team All C-USA honors by the league coaches, as well as Rivals.com and SEBaseball.com.
Adding depth in the outfield will be sophomore Austin Homan along with junior Jonathan Ratledge and freshman Phillip Clark (Norfolk, Va.). Ratledge could also candidate to see time at designated hitter.