East Carolina Head Baseball Coach Billy Godwin talks Pirate Baseball just before the start of the 2009 season, which begins Friday, Feb. 20 against Monmouth inside Lewis Field at Clark-LeClair Stadium. First pitch is scheduled for 3 p.m.
On the 2009 Schedule:
“Once again we have been able to put together another great schedule. Our 35 home games will allow our fans to see some of the top college baseball programs both regionally and nationally. Our players came to ECU to play on a national stage, and with the tough competition in Conference USA and our non-conference schedule, they will be able to do just that on a weekly basis.
“Our goals and standards for the program are high and in order to be the best you have to play the best teams year in and year out. If you look at this year’s schedule, we have tackled that challenge with a tough non-conference slate. We have nationally-ranked Oklahoma State in our LeClair Classic along with perennial NCAA participant St. John’s and College of Charleston. Preseason Top 25 UCLA will be coming in on a return trip from two years ago and we have a tough three-game series against Louisiana Lafayette in early May.
“We have all those games in addition to playing the great level of competition that we have instate with North Carolina, N.C. State, UNC Wilmington and Elon, all NCAA Regional teams over the past few years. Our league schedule is once again packed with tough competition in Rice, Southern Miss, Houston and Tulane, who were all regional teams last year to go along with UCF, UAB, Marshall and Memphis. I think you will be hard pressed to look anywhere in the country and find a better schedule than ours.”
How does playing such a tough schedule prepare a team for post-season play?
“The one thing is that when you get into postseason play, there are no real surprises. You have played some of the elite teams in the country and you’re prepared because you have seen some of the best offensive lineups and pitching staffs in the country. Those are the type of teams that you have to beat to get to Omaha, and that’s what our goal is every year.”
What are some of your biggest concerns entering the season?
“I think the number one question with any program heading into the start of a season is pitching. I feel good about the pitchers we return, especially the four freshmen from last year, who combined for 18 wins. Our pitching staff is very talented, but if there is a concern that I have right now, it would be their youth and inexperience. If we can get 3-or-4 of our freshman to step up the way Seth Maness, Sthil Sowers, Seth Simmons and Brad Mincey did last year, it could be a very special season for this club.”
What do you foresee as the team’s biggest strengths?
“The depth that we have in our positional players is our biggest strength. We have a solid corps of guys returning that have put up proven numbers year in and year out. We also have our Friday night starter back in sophomore Seth Maness that we are excited about and he will be a huge asset this season. But overall the depth of our position players and experience will go a long way in helping this club reaches its potential.”
What contributions do you see the newcomers making in 2009?
“That is always hard to tell until the score board comes on. We are expecting some immediate and big things out of Jared Avchen and Chris Heston. They are experienced and older players that come from a great program in Seminole Community College and will help us right away. With regards to the freshmen, Corey Thompson has a chance to make a big impact this season. We have five pitchers that I think can step in right away like the four from last year in Shawn Armstrong, Kevin Brandt, Lance Honeycutt, Patrick Somers and Mike Wright.”
How do you replace the offense that was lost in Harrison Eldridge and Corey Kemp?
“You don’t ever replace the guys you lose. I remember a couple of years ago people asking me the same thing about Jake Smith and Adam Witter in replacing their power. Well, the following year we led Conference USA in home runs and were in the top two in almost every offensive category.
“Guys step up and emerge out of the shadows. Who is it going to be this year? We really don’t know, but we have guys that are poised to step in and show what they can do. You can’t replace good players. You will miss them, but you just roll guys over and prepare them to step in and fill the void. This year we think Trent Ashcraft, Jared Avchen, Trent Whitehead, Zach Wright and Bobby Fowler are the guys that can step in everyday.”
What kind of an impact will Kyle Roller and Devin Harris have in the lineup?
“Kyle has been a proven impact player since he stepped on campus two years ago. He is proven .300 hitter at this level of play and has major power to hit in the middle of our lineup. As for Devin, we have seen in the fall that he has power, but we haven’t seen it in the spring or game situations, which makes that and uncertainty of sorts. He has worked extremely hard to be an everyday guy, so I think we may see a lot more out of him this spring. They are two players that could make a lot of things happen in the middle of our lineup and are very potent.”
What are the keys to a successful season?
“The number one key is getting our new pitchers (Armstrong, Brandt, Heston, Somers and Wright) to step up and do what Maness and the other guys did last year, which is getting quality production and 15-18 wins. That plus having our returning pitchers improve on their numbers from a year ago.
“I think this team is as talented as any team we have had since I’ve been here, but we are also young on the mound. The second key is having the solid years out of our returnees in Stephen Batts, Ryan Wood, Drew Schieber, Brandon Henderson and Kyle Roller. They are leaders and veterans that need to come in and put up another quality year. We can’t back down from where we have been offensively the last two seasons. As a coaching staff, we feel good about our offense because they have proven that can be successful at a high level.”