ECU baseball ready for season opener

Published 2:58 pm Thursday, February 16, 2012

GREENVILLE — The smile on his face beamed as wide as the corners of the infield at Clark-LeClair Stadium as East Carolina baseball coach Billy Godwin returned from his two-week suspension on Wednesday and was thrilled to be back preparing his team for today’s 3 p.m. season-opener against Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
“I’m excited and really ecstatic about being back on the field where I belong and being with these guys,” Godwin said. “That’s the one thing I love about coaching is the relationship we build with these players. It’s been tough for two weeks to be away from that.”
Godwin was placed on a two-week suspension by East Carolina University after it was found that the baseball program was providing improper housing benefits to volunteer coaches since 2004, a year before Godwin was hired.
East Carolina is currently serving a one-year probation sentence that was handed down from the NCAA and is scheduled to end on May 18, 2012 after it was found that four baseball players and one female tennis player engaged in academic fraud, a major violation.
In an attempt to garner mercy from the NCAA and show that it is making every attempt at running a program that abides by the rules, East Carolina self-reported the infraction and placed Godwin on suspension without pay from Feb. 1 to Feb. 14.
Going through spring training without their head coach could have potentially been a big distraction for the Pirates but senior catcher Zach Wright said the team didn’t miss a beat with assistant coach Nick Schnabel running the show.
“Whenever a cog is missing we replace it and Coach Schnabel has done a great job with being there for us and helping us out,” Wright said.
Wright, who led the Pirates with 13 home runs last season, said going through some adversity helped the team come together.
“It was good for us to have kind of like a team bonding experience,” Wright said. “When he was gone we really focused up and said ‘This is it guys. We really need to go because we got two weeks till game day.’ I think we did a great job of being together as a team and really working together.”
The Pirates will look to bring that same cohesiveness to their three-game series with Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Junior lefty Kevin Brandt, who went 7-3 with a 2.26 ERA last season, will get the opening day nod for the Pirates while junior transfer Jharel Cotton and his self-described “plus-plus” changeup will take the mound for Saturday’s contest.
Godwin has not yet committed to a starter for Sunday but is deciding between junior lefty Tyler Joyner, who rejoined the Pirates after a year-long suspension, and sophomore Austin Chrismon (1-0, 1.93).
This year’s group of starters will try and make up for the departure star pitchers Seth Maness, Mike Wright, Brad Mincey and Shawn Armstrong.
ECU will also look to fill the void left by Seth Simmons, who during his four years with the Pirates became the school’s all-time saves leader.
Vying for the closer role will be redshirt freshman Dario Santangelo and sophomore position player/pitcher Drew Reynolds.
“I think we got two guys that we’re excited about in Santegelo, who redshirted last year and has really come along this preseason, and Drew Reynolds, who’s a position player you might see in the outfield sometimes,” Godwin said. (Reynolds) really changes angles and slots and shows a different look and had an outstanding preseason on the mound.”
In the field the Pirates look solid as they return seven starters from last season’s 41-21 team. While ECU has bevy of veterans it will be hard-pressed to replace longtime starting center fielder and leadoff man Trent Whitehead. Vying to take his place in the field will be junior transfer Jay Cannon and returning starting outfielder Chris Gosik, while right fielder Philip Clark and shortstop Jack Reinheimer are the leading contenders for the No. 1 spot in the lineup.