No. 17 Pirates hoping for homefield magic|Face Binghamton in first round of regionals

Published 11:07 pm Friday, May 29, 2009

Sports Editor

GREENVILLE — The friendly confines of Clark-LeClair Stadium have certainly proven to be kind to the No. 17 East Carolina Pirates.
Coach Billy Godwin’s club (42-17) is hoping that homefield magic continues in the Greenville Regional, a double-elimination tournament that kicks off today. The No. 1 seed Pirates (42-17), 28-7 at home this year, take on No. 4 seed Binghamton (29-20) at 7 p.m.
No. 2 seed South Carolina (38-21) squares off against No. 3 seed George Mason (42-12) at 3 p.m. today in the first game of the tournament.
“I’m happy to be hosting,” said Godwin, tabbed the Conference USA Coach-of-the-Year. “When you get to this point, you’re going to play good teams. It’s going to be a good challenge, but we like the fact that we’re at home.
“If you look at the percentages, I think 70 percent of the host sites move on. I’d take those odds in Vegas.”
While the Pirates have hosted the regional tournament on two other occasions, they were at venues off campus. ECU was the host school for the 2004 regional in Kinston, and the host school for the 2001 tournament in Wilson.
ECU’s players were ecstatic when they found out they’d get to stay at home for the regional tournament.
“It’s awesome,” said senior second baseman Ryan Wood, who leads the Pirates with his .387 batting average. “It’s an incredible feeling.”
Senior first baseman Brandon Henderson, who has worn the special No. 23 jersey in honor of former ECU coaching great Keith LeClair, said having the boisterous fans behind them will be a huge boost for the Pirates.
“I think the most important part about hosting is having the fan base behind us,” Henderson said. “To have all those fans cheering for us will be good. It will be loud and it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
The Pirates are looking to shake off a rather lackluster showing at the C-USA Tournament, where the conference regular-season champions were bounced after going 1-2.
“I don’t think it’s going to take much (to forget last week),” Wood said. “I think that might have been a blessing in disguise that we didn’t play well. It kind of woke us up and we realize that we can’t do that again.”
ECU, making its 24th appearance in the NCAA Tournament, and its 10th in the last 11 seasons, will be facing the Binghamton Bearcats, the American East Conference champions, for the first time in school history. Speaking of firsts, this is Binghamton’s first voyage into an NCAA regional baseball tournament.
Junior transfer Chris Heston (7-0, 3.44 ERA) gets the call for the Pirates. He’ll face a Binghamton team that is hitting .319 with 45 home runs.
Sophomore catcher Jeff Skelhorne-Gross leads the Bearcats with a .386 average. Corey Taylor has provided the bulk of the offense with 15 homers, 51 RBIs and a .335 average.
Other top hitters for Binghamton are Dave Ciocchi (.376, 5 HRs, 33 RBIs), C.J. Lukaszewski (.358), Jim Calderone (.351, 5 HRs, 32 RBIs), Henry Dunn (.345) and Kyle Klee (.331, 5 HRs, 36 RBIs).
Murphy Smith (7-2, 2.41 ERA), a junior right-hander, will get the start for Binghamton.
Smith will face an ECU squad that is hitting .341 with 95 homers. Wood’s .387 average tops all ECU hitters, while his 13 home runs and 55 RBIs are also among the best on the team.
Other top hitters for the Pirates are sophomore leadoff man and former Washington Pam Pack great, Trent Whitehead (.380, team-best 95 hits, 6 HRs, 42 RBIs), Stephen Batts (.368, 14 HRs, 61 RBIs), Austin Homan (.352), Henderson (.335, 11 HRs, 48 RBIs), Jared Avchen (.331, 2 HRs, 28 RBIs), Devin Harris (.330, 12 HRs, 40 RBIs), Kyle Roller (.325, 13 HRs, 65 RBIs), Dustin Harrington (.323, 12 HRs, 43 RBIs) and Drew Schieber (.317, 7 HRs, 51 RBIs).
The losers of today’s games meet Saturday at 2 p.m., while the winners square off at 6 p.m. Two more games are slated for Sunday, with another game to be played Monday, if necessary.
Sophomore Seth Maness (9-1, 4.15 ERA) will likely get the ball for the Pirates in Saturday’s contest. The All-American said it doesn’t matter if he faces the South Carolina Gamecocks or the George Mason Patriots.
“I treat it like any other game,” Maness said. “I don’t really look at who they are. I just think of it as another game. I’m just going to go out there and try to throw strikes, and let the offense do what they do.
We just have to trust what got us here.”
The Pirates hold a 43-30 overall record against George Mason, and are 4-15 against South Carolina.
In today’s first game, sophomore right-hander Sam Dyson (8-4, 5.31 ERA) will start for South Carolina, while George Mason will counter with senior lefty Mike Modica (11-1, 4.17 ERA).
South Carolina is hitting .305 with 99 home runs. Top hitters for the Gamecocks include DeAngelo Mack (.366, 14 HRs, 59 RBIs), Jackie Bradley Jr. (.338, 9 HRs, 41 RBIs), Whit Merrifield (.337, 11 HRs, 45 RBIs), Nick Ebert (.332, 22 HRs, 71 RBIs), Andrew Crisp (.317, 10 HRs, 48 RBIs), Parker Bangs (.313, 4 HRs, 33 RBIs) and Justin Dalles (.295, 12 HRs, 37 RBIs).
George Mason is hitting .322 with 81 home runs. Top hitters for the Patriots include Chris Henderson (.416, 14 HRs, 54 RBIs), Scott Krieger (.378, 20 HRs, 80 RBIs), Justin Bour (.336, 17 HRs, 65 RBIs), Shane Davis (.327, 6 HRs, 29 RBIs), Mark Hill (.327, 3 HRs, 26 RBIs), Ryan Soares (.320, 11 HRs, 42 RBIs) and Brent Weiss (.301).
The Greenville Regional will advance to the Super Regionals, which is a best-of-three format. Selection of the eight Super Regional hosts will be announced on on Monday at approximately 11 p.m.
The Super Regional winners advance to the College World Series, which begins June 13 at Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha, Nebraska.