No. 15 Pirates ready for C-USA Tournament|Top seed faces UCF in opener

Published 9:33 pm Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Sports Editor

GREENVILLE — The No. 15 East Carolina Pirates are heading into the Conference USA Tournament with some serious momentum.
The C-USA regular-season champions and top seed in the tournament, winners of six straight, face No. 8 seed UCF (22-33) in today’s first-round game at 5 p.m. The tournament is being held at Pete Taylor Park, home of Southern Miss, in Hattiesburg, Miss.
The Pirates (41-15) swept the Knights (10-3, 13-3 and 26-1) during the regular season.
“We have to have momentum,” ECU coach Billy Godwin said. “We played really well (last) week, got good pitching and swung the bat well.
“We’re playing good at the right time. As a coach, you just hope it carries over.”
The Pirates, who won their first C-USA regular-season championship since 2004, are looking for their first C-USA tournament title since 2002. Senior first baseman Brandon Henderson likes how his team is playing.
“There’s a lot of momentum,” Henderson said. “We’re playing very good baseball right now.
“I think one through nine in the lineup, everybody is feeling good about their swing. We have three or four good starters and a good bullpen. We’re clicking on all cylinders. We’re ready to move on.”
ECU is hitting .344 with 94 home runs. Nobody on the team may be hotter right now than second baseman Ryan Wood, who leads the Pirates in hitting (.391), is tied for the team-lead in home runs (13) and is third in RBIs (55).
“I feel good about our whole team right now,” Wood said. “Everybody is swinging the bat well and pitching the ball well.”
Trent Whitehead, who received the Player-of-the-Year award from the fans in “The Jungle” at the conclusion of the regular season, is hitting .377 with six homers and 41 RBIs. His 90 hits top all ECU batters.
“The momentum we have right now is unbelievable,” said Whitehead, a former standout at Washington High School. “Everything is going good and the team chemistry is great. It seems like we’re clicking on all cylinders and I hope we can keep it up.”
Other top hitters for ECU are Austin Homan (.373, 17 RBIs), Stephen Batts (.368, 13 HRs, 58 RBIs), Henderson (.351, 11 HRs, 46 RBIs), Devin Harris (.339, 12 HRs, 40 RBIs), Kyle Roller (.335, 13 HRs, 65 RBIs), Jared Avchen (.331, 2 HRs, 26 RBIs), Dustin Harrington (.321, 12 HRs, 43 RBIs) and Drew Schieber (.317, 7 HRs, 51 RBIs).
Chris Heston (7-0, 3.44 ERA) has been ECU’s go-to man to start a series. Seth Maness (9-0, 3.99 ERA), the reigning C-USA Pitcher-of-the-Week, starts the second game.
Brad Mincey (9-4, 3.02 ERA) or Kevin Brandt (7-1, 3.46 ERA) have also been solid in starts, while closer Seth Simmons (3-1, 8 saves, 2.81 ERA) awaits in the wings.
The Pirates will take on a Knights’ team that is hitting .297 with 66 home runs. Shane Brown (6 HRs, 44 RBIs) leads UCF with his .345 average.
Other top hitters for the Knights are Beau Taylor (.338, 4 HRs, 23 RBIs), Colin Arnold (.330, 5 HRs, 19 RBIs), Brandon Romans (.328, 14 HRs, 47 RBIs) and Kiko Vazquez (.304, 12 HRs, 41 RBIs).
The winner of today’s game faces the Tulane-Southern Miss winner at 8:30 p.m. Thursday, while the losers square off at 1:30 p.m.