Jan 242013
 

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East Carolina baseball coach Billy Godwin talks to members of the media about the upcoming season at Clark-LeClair Stadium on Wednesday. (Rhett Butler/The Daily Reflector)

East Carolina baseball coach Billy Godwin talks to members of the media about the upcoming season at Clark-LeClair Stadium on Wednesday. (Rhett Butler/The Daily Reflector)

“We’re expecting some freshmen to step in and make some key contributions to our club.”

Billy Godwin

ECU baseball coach

By Nathan Summers

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Billy Godwin is back at the drawing board, trying to diagram a champion.

A year removed from another college baseball season that ended in the NCAA regional round for his East Carolina club, Godwin has emerged from that disappointment — and from another offseason of substantial roster depletion — hopeful that he’s charted out the Pirates’ first-ever path to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb.

“It’s somewhere where this program’s never been, but I want to be the first person that leads them there,” Godwin said of the CWS, which once again eluded the Pirates last season after they failed to advance out of the Chapel Hill Regional. “I think that the way recruiting is going and the talent we’re getting in, we’re getting there and I’m really excited about that.”

A unified feeling around the team on its media day Wednesday was that this year’s edition of ECU baseball is hell-bent on taking the step into the sport’s upper echelon by playing in its season-ending showcase.

A bulk of Godwin’s big hitters are gone from a season ago and his pitching staff is still being pieced together, but the skipper has reason to believe his youth and experience could be the magic mix this time.

“Nobody has any higher demands or expectations than I have set for myself,” said Godwin, whose club finished 36-24-1 in his seventh season in charge. “I think it’s pretty evident if you’ve been here over the years and seen the regionals and the close calls and even the Super Regionals, how disappointing (it is), because the goal is Omaha.”

When the Pirates host perennial powerhouse Virginia to begin the season on Feb. 15, there will be plenty of proof that freshmen and other first-year players — which likely will characterize the 2013 Pirates — can make an immediate impact.

Sophomore pitcher Jeff Hoffman has earned the lead starting pitching role after his promising freshman campaign saw him finish with 55 strikeouts and his first three victories.

“I’m really excited that we’ve got a potential Friday night guy in Jeff Hoffman,” Godwin said. “He is what you dream about. He’s got the stuff. He’s got the ability to go out and shut teams down.”

Missing from the mound is a trio of valuable arms that would have logged substantial innings.

After just one season at ECU, Jharel Cotton (8-3 record, 62 strikeouts in ’12) answered the call of the draft last summer and joined the Los Angeles Dodgers organization. Meanwhile, junior Tanner Merritt (25 appearances, 2.91 ERA) has been suspended for the season for violating team rules and senior Tyler Joyner (6-2, 3.01) is likely facing disciplinary action in the wake of a recent assault arrest.

To the rescue is Hoffman, who could be joined in the rotation by junior college transfer Ryan Williams and senior reliever and former JUCO transfer Andy Smithmyer. Godwin said he also expects to hand the ball to right-hander Hayden White and lefty Nick Durazo, both freshmen.

In the field, the Pirates have brought in two catchers — freshmen Luke Lowery and Travis Watkins — to replace mainstay Zach Wright and compete with senior Sam King in what Godwin called the most hotly-contested position on the diamond.

Looking for a role in the infield that boasts returning junior Jack Reinheimer at shortstop and most likely JUCO transfer Zach Houchens at third (replacing starter Corey Thompson) will be freshman infielder Joe Brooks. Senior Jay Cannon, whose junior season was limited by injury, figures to come out of the outfield and man second base.

Like Cotton, corner infielder and key hitter John Wooten (team-high .338 average and 40 RBIs last season) also left for the pros after his junior year, meaning junior Chase McDonald will likely see more time at first base. Junior Drew Reynolds is also back after batting .330 and driving in 24 runs while also notching 10 saves as the team’s closer, and he is actually slated as the starter at first with McDonald listed as the lead designated hitter.

In the outfield, even more youth will be served, as Godwin projects freshman Garrett Brooks to start in center between sophomore Nick Thompson and senior Philip Clark, and JUCO find Dylan Brown is also listed as a potential starter.

“We’re expecting some freshmen to step in and make some key contributions to our club,” Godwin said. “We think they’re poised to do it and have the ability to do it. Guys like Garrett Brooks, Travis Lowery, Luke Watkins, we’re really excited about the talent level that they bring us.”

Contact Nathan Summers at nsummers@reflector.com or 252-329-9595.

via The Daily Reflector.

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