GREENVILLE, N.C.—John Wooten looked confused.
He glanced at his teammates, then at the "Williams' Jungle" beyond the left-field fence at Clark-LeClair stadium, where fans were chanting, "Woo-ten, Woo-ten." Then his head swiveled back to his teammates.
"Hey Woot, Woot," one of his East Carolina teammates said. "They want you to run out to the jungle."
"What do I do?" Wooten asked with a frantic shrug.
"Just run out there and jump up there."
Wooten sprinted from the Pirates' dugout on the third-base line all the way to the left-field fence, then hurled himself to the top of the wall—Lambeau Leap style—where he was greeted by back-pats and high-fives from delighted East Carolina fans.
Moments later, he was back in front of the ECU dugout, preparing to do an interview with a local television crew, when closer Seth Simmons snuck up behind him and stuffed a shaving-cream pie in his face.
How did the pie taste?
"Not very good," the freshman first baseman said.
Not that he was complaining. Wooten had a collegiate debut to remember, homering to the opposite field in his first at-bat and delivering an RBI single in his final at-bat to help lead the Pirates to a 6-1 win against No. 2 Virginia. In between, he hit two other balls on the nose—but was robbed of an RBI extra-base hit on a sensational catch by center fielder Jarrett Parker, and robbed of another hit on a leaping catch by first baseman Kenny Swab.
East Carolina coach Billy Godwin said he wanted to add a more physical presence in the bottom third of his lineup today, so he gave the start at first base to Wooten, the prize of ECU's 2009 recruiting class. Wooten, a 6-foot-4 righthanded hitter, turned down third-round money as a 20th-round pick of the Padres to attend East Carolina. He showed why the Pirates are so excited about him in his debut.
"I had a hunch," Godwin said. "I told coach (Nick) Schnabel today when we were talking about the lineup, that even though it wasn't a matchup situation when they were throwing a righty, that John was going to do some good things. He proved my hunch right."
Wooten's solo homer off Robert Morey in the third gave the Pirates the first run of the game, and they would never trail. Sophomore lefthander Kevin Brandt made sure of that.
Brandt masterfully mixed his fastball, curveball and changeup to keep Virginia's dangerous hitters off balance for 6 2/3 innings. He allowed just one run on five hits and three walks while striking out four.
"I felt good. All three pitches felt good," Brandt said. "I didn't feel my changeup as much today as I usually do, so I relied on my breaking ball a lot. I just tried to keep it down and away (against righthanded hitters)."
Perhaps most importantly, Brandt neutralized the middle of UVa.'s lineup. Dan Grovatt, Steven Proscia and Jarrett Parker went a combined 0-for-12 with four strikeouts against Brandt and reliever Mike Wright, a day after the trio combined to go 6-for-11 with six RBIs.
"To his credit, he pitched all of our guys really effectively," Virginia coach Brian O'Connor said. "Morey would have had to pitch a really low-run game to give us a chance. Brandt was outstanding—I can see why he put up such good numbers last year. He's a very good college pitcher, and he's like some of the better guys in our league. He changes speeds real effectively and he keeps the ball down in the zone. He'll also pitch in on the righthanded hitters, and he knows how to pitch. He's got great poise out there, he makes big pitches in the clutch, and that's why he's successful.
"We had opportunities, and we didn't execute when we had those opportunities, and they did."
Godwin was disappointed in his team's inability to convert scoring chances into runs in Friday's 6-2 loss. In between games, he talked with his hitters about slightly altering their approach with two strikes.
"We hit the ball better," Godwin said. "We wanted to take advantage early. I thought we had some good two-strike at-bats today. We did a better job after we punched out eight times yesterday. I told our guys to step out of the box when they got two strikes and take a deep breath, and go in there and go into battle mode."
East Carolina made the necessary adjustments and got timely hits. Now it's Virginia's turn to respond in Sunday's rubber game.
"They've got a really good ballclub, and so do we," O'Connor said. "I didn't think anybody was going to sweep a series down here."
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