Pirates ready to get back on the diamond|ECU will rely on pitching to get back to playoffs

Published 9:19 pm Thursday, January 27, 2011

By By BRIAN HAINES, Brian@wdnweb.com, Sports Writer
GREENVILLE — The East Carolina baseball team missed the postseason last year for only the second time in coach Billy Godwin’s six-year tenure with the Pirates, but with a strong pitching staff and some talented newcomers this year’s crew is ready to get back to their winning ways.
After making it to the North Carolina Super Regional in 2009, the Pirates sputtered last season and finished the year with a 32-27 record and a sixth place finish in Conference USA.
Senior outfielder, and former Washington High School star, Trent Whitehead said he is hoping this year’s team can sneak up on opponents who might overlook ECU.
“I hope so, I think the way we are taking this year is that we kind of have a chip on our shoulder,” Whitehead said. “We are trying to prove to people that 2009 wasn’t a fluke and that last year was just a bad year. … We are really looking forward to going out and catching people who are not expecting us to play well.”
Whitehead, who batted .331 last season with four home runs, 31 RBIs and 15 stolen bases is one of six returning starting position players. The others are infielder Corey Thompson who hit a team-high .377 last year, OF/DH Austin Homan (.313), infielder John Wooten (.311, 9 home runs), OF Philip Clark (.290) and catcher Zach Wright (.265).
The biggest reason for optimism this year is the return of starting pitchers Seth Maness, Zach Woods, Brad Mincey and Kevin Brandt.
“I think our strength going into the season is our experienced pitching staff,” Godwin said. “If you look on paper – and I caution our guys that paper doesn’t win games – but going into the season to have a comfort level that you got a Conference USA Newcomer of the Year in Zach Woods (8-4, 4.50) who pitched in a Friday or Saturday role pretty much all of last year. Seth Maness has been highly decorated since he has been here and rightfully so. Seth Simmons (2-5, 9 saves) has got a chance to leave here and be our saves leader and appearance leader. Brad Mincey (3-1, 5.83) was a 10-game winner two years ago and Kevin Brandt (3-7, 5.21). It just gets you excited.”
Maness, the reigning Conference USA Pitcher of the Year, is the leader of the rotation and said the key to this year is for everyone to just play calm.
“To be successful we just need to have fun and relax,” Maness said. “If we put too much pressure on us it’s not going to work out how we like. I think we have the talent and everything, we just have to relax and let everyone fit in their slots.”
Two of the harder slots to fit will be the ones left open by outfielder Devon Harris and first baseman/D.H. Kyle Roller. Harris belted 13 home runs and hit .314 for ECU, while Roller smashed 12 homers and batted .324.
The team will also need to play more consistent defense in the infield starting at the shortstop position.
Helping fill those voids will be a talented freshman class and some JUCO transfers. Of the freshman, expect shortstop Jack Reinheimer, who was drafted by the Atlanta Braves out of high school, to be one of the players whose impact may be felt sooner then later.
“I’m excited about any (newcomer) who can catch ground balls in the middle of the field,” Godwin joked. “But Jack Reinheimer is a kid from Audrey Kell, Charlotte, who is a plus runner and one of our leading hitters in the fall and is plus defender. I’m excited about (freshman infielder) Drew Reynolds. I use the term live body (to describe his) first step reaction, he has good instincts or genes or whatever you want to call it; it’s as superior as any freshman I have ever brought in here.
“(Freshman 1B/DH) Chase McDonald, I’m excited about him because he is a big physical guy who has strength and the ability to hit. … (Freshman RHP) Austin Chrismon is another kid that I’m really excited about … He was drafted by the Astros and really pitches about as good as anybody we have with his fastball which has been clocked at anywhere from upper to low 90s.”
The Pirates, who open the season on Feb. 18 at home against Youngstown State, will have to adjust to hitting with new bats after the NCAA has ruled that teams must use new bats that are not as lively as the ones in the past.
“It’s something we can’t control but everyone is going to have to use the same bats,” Godwin said. “I still believe that guys that have strength and ability to hit are going to be good hitters. I don’t think all of a sudden we are going to see that Corey Thompson is not a good hitter anymore. … What I understand and what I have seen is that if the old bats perform at about seven or 10 percent above wood bats, and I’m using that term without a lot of knowledge it’s just what I’ve heard, that these bats are closer to about two or three percent. … I think it will affect the powers numbers, but guys that are going to hit are going to hit.”