East Carolina University's Pirates will return to the diamond at Harrington Field for the first time since May 2002 as they open their season this Friday, Feb. 14, in the first of a three-game series against visiting Western Carolina. ECU finished 43-20-1 last season and advanced to its fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament. The Pirates are also the defending C-USA Tournament champions. ECU and WCU have met 10 previous times on the baseball diamond with the Pirates claiming wins in nine of those meetings.
In The Polls
The Pirates enter their season-opening weekend ranked among the top 40 by two national polls. ECU is ranked No. 30 by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA) and is No. 36 in the latest Collegiate Baseball poll. East Carolina has been ranked in the top 30 of at least one of the three final major national baseball polls for each of the past four seasons. ECU finished with a national ranking of No. 24 in the Baseball Weekly/ESPN Coaches poll at the conclusion of the 2002 season.
On The Air
Friday's (Feb. 14) season-opener will be available throughout eastern North Carolina on the newly expanded Pirate Sports Network. Carrying over 30 games on the network this year are WGHB (1250 AM) in Farmville/Greenville, WRUP (97.9 FM) in New Bern/Morehead City, and WSTK (910 AM) in Jacksonville. Dan Eberhard will call the play-by-play. All games on the Pirate Sports Network can be heard live on the internet through ECUpirates.com, the official web site of ECU athletics. Saturday and Sunday's games will not be broadcast.
On The World Wide Web
Live scoring and statistical play-by-play will be available for all three of this weekend's games on the internet through the official web site of the Pirates, ECUpirates.com. The statistical feed, which updates live after each batter, is made possible through a direct connection from the official statistician's scorebook computer and will be available for a majority of ECU's home and road games in 2003.
Mazey Era Begins at ECU
Randy Mazey, an assistant coach at Tennessee for the past four seasons, will begin his first season as head baseball coach at East Carolina. A former ECU assistant under previous Pirate mentor Keith LeClair, Mazey has served as the recruiting coordinator/pitching coach at Tennessee for the past four years. He served as the recruiting coordinator for East Carolina in 1998, recruiting such players as Eric Bakich, Lee Delfino, Jason Mandryk, James Molinari, Nick Schnabel, and Chad Tracy. Mazey becomes the ninth baseball coach in Pirate history and takes over for LeClair, who relinquished his head coaching duties on June 19, 2002, due to health reasons. LeClair, who remains with the ECU athletics department as a special assistant to Director of Athletics Mike Hamrick, compiled a 212-96-1 record over the past five seasons. He led the Pirates to four consecutive NCAA Regional appearances, including the NCAA Super Regional in 2001, and three Colonial Athletic Association championships.
Tangled Web of Catamount Ties
Western Carolina University is the alma mater of former Pirate head baseball coach Keith LeClair, who both played and coached for the Catamounts, and it is at least slightly ironic that East Carolina's first game without LeClair at its helm would come against WCU. LeClair was a four-year letterman (1985-88) for the Catamounts and was an All-Southern Conference selection in 1988. He returned to Cullowhee as an assistant coach in 1989 and was promoted to head coach there in 1992. His Catamount teams compiled a 229-135-2 record in six seasons while claiming four SoCon championships.
New ECU head coach Randy Mazey got his start in coaching as an assistant coach in 1990 at Clemson, and served the 1992 and '93 seasons alongside Jack Leggett, who had coached LeClair at Western Carolina and is currently the head coach of Clemson's baseball program.
Three other ties to WCU exist among the ECU athletics department. Current ECU director of media relations Craig Wells is an '88 graduate of Western Carolina and served eight years (1991-99) in the Catamounts' sports information office. Jody Jones, who serves as Wells' assistant at ECU, was WCU's SID from 1999-2000. Darrell Bryant, East Carolina's current assistant athletics director for student development, served eight years at WCU as the director of the Catamounts' academic support program for student-athletes.
Scouting Western Carolina
A program with a rich baseball tradition, Western Carolina returns 17 lettermen from a team that went 33-23 last season and finished second in the Southern Conference. The Catamounts have made nine NCAA postseason appearances over the past 17 seasons. Three All-Southern Conference selections return for 2003--outfielder Alan Beck (.374, 10 HR, 59 RBI), first baseman Todd Buchanan (.338, 7 HR, 54 RBI), and designated hitter Chris Davis (.374). The Catamounts lost two of their three regular starting pitchers from last season, with the lone returning starter being senior Seth Foster, who was 7-3 with a 5.47 ERA. The Catamounts are coached by Todd Raleigh, a former teammate of Keith LeClair, who is entering his fourth season at the helm of WCU. The Catamounts will play three games--two at Coastal Carolina and a home date on Wednesday, Feb. 12, against High Point--before making the journey to Greenville.
LeClair's Jersey Number 23 Awarded to Sanderson
Baseball jersey number 23, which is the number worn by former ECU head coach Keith LeClair throughout his coaching and playing career, has become an honorary number for the Pirate baseball program. At the suggestion of LeClair, current head coach Randy Mazey announced in early February that the number would be awarded annually to a deserving player who best displays the hustle, determination, and desire that made LeClair a great coach and player. For the 2003 season, the number has been awarded to senior outfielder Ben Sanderson. Sanderson, a three-year letterman, is a career .347 hitter and batted .405 with seven stolen bases as a part-time starter in left field last season. He was named to the 2002 NCAA Clemson Regional All-Tournament team. He was also named to the 2001-02 C-USA Commissioner's Academic Honor Roll for his classroom work. LeClair, whose courageous battle against a neuromuscular disorder has garnered support and admiration throughout the ECU community, stepped down after five years as the Pirates' head coach this past June.
East Carolina is one of only 12 teams in NCAA Division I that have posted 40 or more victories in each of the past four seasons. The only other teams to accomplish the feat are Florida State, Clemson, Wake Forest, Notre Dame, Nebraska, Oral Roberts, Wichita State, Rice, Florida International, Stanford, and LSU. In addition, the Pirates are among just 17 Division I teams who have advanced to NCAA Regional play in each of the last four years.
East Carolina drew crowds of over 1,900 fans at home 10 times last season and averaged 1,733 fans per game, by far the highest season attendance average in school history. Included in that total was a Harrington Field-record of 3,890 against North Carolina.
Milestones in Reach
East Carolina's pitching staff has posted a combined team ERA of 3.89 over the past four seasons and has ranked among the nation's top 16 in that category in three of the past four years. The Pirate hurlers combined for a team ERA of 3.64 in 2002, which ranked 16th nationally.
The J.H. Rose Connection
Greenville's J.H. Rose High School has been a pipeline for baseball talent for the Pirates through the years and the 2003 roster continues to reflect that tie. Seven current ECU players are former Rampants and played for Rose head coach Ronald Vincent, whose teams are perennial state title contenders. The seven Rose High products are freshman left-hander Scott Andrews, senior right-hander Will Brinson, junior left-hander Ashley Capps, junior first baseman Mike Harrington, sophomore outfielder Kelly Hodges, freshman left-hander Nate Logan, and junior outfielder Jamie Paige.
Lawhorn Racks Up Records
Infielder Darryl Lawhorn virtually rewrote the ECU freshman record book in 2002 by setting rookie season records for games played (64), at-bats (250), hits (104), batting average (.416), RBI (68), home runs (19), and total bases (179). His marks for hits and total bases also broke the overall ECU season records. Lawhorn is expected to make a transition to third base after playing primarily at first in '02.