Whitehead excited about first NCAA regional

Published 1:48 am Thursday, May 29, 2008

By Staff
By KEVIN TRAVIS, Sports Editor
GREENVILLE — This whole postseason gig is new to Trent Whitehead.
The freshman outfielder with the East Carolina Pirates never got to experience a playoff game in his four years with the Washington Pam Pack baseball team. That’s what made Monday’s NCAA Tournament selection show that much sweeter.
Whitehead and the rest of the Pirates found out they would be playing in the regional tournament in Conway, S.C.
“Being in my first year and getting to see all these new things, it’s exciting,” Whitehead said. “Not knowing where we were going, just always wondering, it was good to finally see our name pop up there and finally have an idea of where we were going.
“I’m just completely excited. I still don’t really know what to think about it. There’s 64 teams left and I feel privileged to be on a team that’s one of the 64 teams that gets to advance.”
ECU (40-19), the No. 2 seed, will be joined by top seed and host Coastal Carolina (47-12), No. 3 seed Alabama (34-26) and No. 4 seed Columbia (22-28). All games will be played at Vrooman Field at Charles Watson Stadium.
The Coastal Carolina Chanticleers will face the Columbia Lions at 1 p.m. Friday in the first game of the regional. ECU will take on the Alabama Crimson Tide at 7 p.m.
“I think we have a good shot at doing some good things down there,” Whitehead said. “Hopefully, we can go down there and take care of business.
“Every team that we’re playing is playing to advance. Not knowing what’s going to happen, teams will play their hardest and there’s no rolling over.”
Whitehead is hoping the Pirates can rebound from an early exit in the Conference USA Tournament, where two losses to eventual tourney champion Houston knocked out ECU.
The former Washington star, a three-time MVP for the Pam Pack, said his first C-USA Tournament was a memorable one.
“It was a completely different environment,” Whitehead said. “There weren’t that many fans there, but it was an incredible environment.”
That Pirates had been on the road for 12 days before returning home to Greenville. Whitehead said he and his teammates are happy they, and fans, only have to travel some four hours to the regional tournament.
“That’s good,” Whitehead said. “We were in Memphis and Tulane for 12 days and a lot of guys were homesick. I was talking with a few guys and they said they didn’t want to go far from home (for the regional tournament). We’re close to home so we’ll be able to have a lot of our fans make the trip.”
Whitehead, who has been hampered by a finger injury, is hoping to see some game action. He’s looking to get hot again at the plate. The freshman, who has played in 48 games and started 22 of them, is currently hitting .267 with three homers, five stolen bases and 15 RBIs.
The 5-10, 169-pounder started out the season red-hot, hitting well above .300 for much of the season, but the finger injury didn’t help matters at the plate.
“I thought I did okay,” Whitehead said. “It wasn’t quite what I expected. I started off hot and then I kind of dropped off a little bit at the end of the season. A (.267) batting average and a couple (three) of home runs and five stolen bases isn’t bad, but it’s not quite what I was aiming for.”
Whitehead is still trying to bounce back from the finger injury, sustaining a severe bruise and swollen joint during a botched bunt attempt. He didn’t pull the bat back in time on a pitch sailing toward him, and the ball crushed the finger between the bat and the ball.
“There’s still a little bit of pain in it but, for the most part, I can throw,” Whitehead said. “When I stretch it out a little bit, it causes a little bit of pain. Hitting-wise, it’s fine. Throwing is the big thing right now. It’s probably at about 90 to 95 percent.”
While somewhat pleased with his individual play, Whitehead believes the team as a whole has had a solid season.
“We wanted to win 40 games and we accomplished that,” Whitehead said. “We wanted to host (a regional tournament), but we didn’t quite get there.
“For the most part, we’re playing pretty good. ”
He’s looking for himself and the rest of the Pirates to step it up a notch in Conway.
It’s a new experience for Whitehead, and one he’ll definitely cherish.