No. 14 Pirates on a Roll(er)|ECU faces Tar Heels in Super Regionals

Published 12:28 am Friday, June 5, 2009

Sports Editor

GREENVILLE — Stephen Batts took a page out of C.J. Wilson’s repertoire.
Batts went to East Carolina to play soccer. When the program was done away with, that opened a door to the baseball team, and Batts has flourished ever since.
On Monday, Batts showed that he can play a little football as well. The senior outfielder took down the largest Pirate of them all.
Soon after Kyle Roller scored one of the biggest runs in ECU history, scoring on a clutch 10th-inning single off the bat of Devin Harris to give the Pirates a 10-9 win over South Carolina in the NCAA Greenville Regional championship game, the powerful Roller became a tackling dummy.
The win advanced the No. 14 Pirates (45-18) to the Super Regionals, where they’ll take on No. 4 national seed North Carolina (45-16) in a best-of-three series that begins Saturday.
Batts, who stands at 6-0, 198 pounds, ran over to Roller, wrapped up the 6-1, 248-pound brute, and took him down in delirious delight.
“He wrapped his legs around me and there I went,” said Roller, ECU’s powerful designated hitter who looks more like a defensive end than a baseball player. “Next thing I know, I had about 15 guys on me.”
Batts, who said he didn’t play high school football because of his mother’s wishes, did something that would have made ECU football coach Skip Holtz smile.
After all, it’s not every day that Roller ends up on the losing end of a skirmish.
“I think that’s the first time anybody has gotten the best of (Roller),” said sophomore outfielder Trent Whitehead, who took part in the mass celebration near home plate. “He got up a little winded.”
Because Batts was the one to sack Roller — ala ECU defensive end C.J. Wilson, he found himself on the bottom of the dog pile at a frantic Clark-LeClair Stadium.
“That was fun, but that was one of the scariest moments I’ve even been through in my entire life,” Batts said. “It was the worst situation, but the best. That was the slowest 10 seconds of my entire life.”
Roller is known more for his brawn than his speed. Hitting .335 this year, Roller has belted 16 home runs and driven in 74 runs, which is the third most in ECU single-season history.
(Steve Salargo knocked in 77 in 1999; Winfred Johnson drove in 75 in 1985.)
Roller’s 39 career homers is tied for fourth best with Tommy Eason (1989-91).
(Winfred Johnson belted 70 from 1983-86, John Williamson smacked 47 from 1998-2001 and Darryl Lawhorn smashed 43 from 2002-04.)
The 154 career RBIs Roller has produced is tied for eighth best with Chad Tracy, who played for the Pirates from 1999-2001.
(Winfred Johnson holds the record with 221.)
The junior seems especially dialed in at the plate now. Roller went 10-for-21 (.476) with three home runs, nine RBIs and seven runs scored during the Greenville Regional, which landed him on the all-tournament team.
He clobbered two of those home runs in the same inning in a 16-9 win over Binghamton.
“I’ve been working a lot of with (hitting coach Link) Jarrett,” Roller said. “This past weekend showed that I just have to get my timing right. Hopefully, it will continue through the Super Regionals.”
On Monday night, it was Roller’s legs that took center stage. He lumbered around the bases and beat the throw to the plate for the game-winner.
“I like to show my speed every now and again,” Roller said. “I just kept telling myself, ‘just go, big guy, go.’ The (catcher) was in the way and I thought about running him over, but I realized I couldn’t do that, so I figured I’d slide in head first and let the celebration begin.”
Roller is used to heaving players on a pile, so being on the bottom was a new experience.
“It was exciting at first, but then I couldn’t breathe,” Roller said. “I started panicking, but I’d do it all over again if I could.”
He may get that chance.
“I got him again,” Batts said with a big smile. “I got him again.”
The pitching matchups have been set for the Super Regionals at Chapel Hill.
ECU sophomore Seth Maness (9-4, 4.41 ERA) will get the start in Saturday’s opener. The Tar Heels will counter with junior Alex White (7-4, 4.42 ERA).
On Sunday, freshman Kevin Brandt (9-1, 3.52 ERA) will start for the Pirates. UNC will start senior Adam Warren (8-2, 3.19 ERA).
At Boshamer Stadium
Saturday, June 6, Noon (ESPNU)
Sunday, June 7, Noon (ESPN)
Monday, June 8, 1 or 7 p.m. (if needed on ESPN or ESPN2)