Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

East Carolina Finer to Richland's Jones

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

East Carolina Finer to Richland's Jones

Article excerpt

On the East Carolina University baseball roster, Ryan Jones is listed as being 5 feet 7.

Jones insists it's a mistake and that he's 5-8.

Whatever the measurement, one thing is for certain: Jones has come up big for East Carolina baseball this season.

After batting .264 (55 for 208) last season and .260 (54 for 208) his sophomore year, this Pine-Richland High graduate has produced a dream senior season, leading the Pirates in batting average at .409 (76 for 181).

Jones has also manufactured big-time power numbers for East Carolina, belting out 18 homers (second on the team), 24 doubles (second), 4 triples (first) and a team-high 66 RBIs. A left-handed hitter, Jones' slugging percentage (.871) ranks No. 1 in all of NCAA Division I baseball in the latest statistics.

"He's always had this potential," said East Carolina coach Randy Mazey. "But even great hitters have bad weekends. This season, Ryan's been consistent all the way through. That's why his numbers are so good."

Mazey, 37, a Johnstown native in his second year as ECU's head coach, said back problems slowed Jones' effectiveness somewhat in the past.

This season, the ECU center fielder has been pain-free while swinging the bat. Which is a good thing since an elbow injury incurred early in the year has made it difficult for Jones to throw the ball. He has spent more time this season at designated hitter than in the outfield.

Still, Jones has been a hit.

"A lot of people see his physical stature and can't believe he's the guy with 18 home runs," said Mazey. "A lot of pitchers go after him, figuring he's not strong enough to hit the inside fastball. A lot of people end up surprised at how far he can hit the ball."

Likewise, a lot of people have been surprised by the success of the East Carolina baseball team.

The Pirates, who were 34-27-1 (17-13 in Conference USA) a year ago, have improved to 47-9 (25-5 in conference) and are ranked No. 6 in the nation by Baseball America. They appear a sure bet to make it to the NCAA tournament. ECU won the Conference USA 12-team regular- season title and will begin play in the conference's postseason tournament today.

"Our young pitchers have stepped up," said Jones, a Richland resident. "We knew we had a lot of offense coming back."

But did Jones, who hit four home runs last year and three the year before, envision he would be the team's offensive superstar.

"In the past, I'd hit the ball real well in the fall [in intrasquad games)," said Jones. "But it didn't seem to happen in the spring. I knew I could do better. It just wasn't happening.

"Last year, I think I took too many pitches. It was bugging me. I worked on it in the fall. I tried to be more aggressive.

"I figured, it's my senior year. It was time to do something special, time to step up."

Jones said before the season, he joked to a teammate that he was going to hit 19 home runs, never expecting it could come true. …

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