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Huge Segra Stadium crowd watches ECU top UNC

6,228 on hand to watch Pirates beat Tar Heels, 7-4, in a battle of top-15 baseball teams


The Fayetteville Woodpeckers minor league baseball team won't start its 2024 season for another six weeks, but the Houston Astros affiliate's stadium has had a great start.

And it did it by being a good host for two of the top college baseball programs in the country.

The five-year-old Segra Stadium drew 6,228 people on Saturday to watch East Carolina beat North Carolina 7-4. That eclipsed a previous record of 6,202, set on opening night of the stadium's debut on April 18, 2019. A subsequent July 4, 2022, game drew 6,482 people, which is the stadium's record for a baseball game.

East Carolina (5-2) is ranked 11th in the country by D1baseball.com and North Carolina (5-2) is 15th.

"It's been great exposure obviously for downtown Fayetteville, for the Woodpeckers. It's leading into our season," said second-year Woodpeckers General Manager Michelle Skinner. "I think it drew a lot of fans that haven't been to Segra Stadium before to support the colleges. So to get them here to lead into the season and show them a good time and have a crowd like that is fantastic. Definitely the biggest (crowd) since I've been here."

The Woodpeckers open their 2024 season April 5 at Myrtle Beach with the home opener set for April 9 against Charleston.

The schools

Saturday's game was the middle one of a three-game series that began on Friday night in Chapel Hill when North Carolina won 2-1. On Sunday in Greenville, East Carolina won the series finale 10-9 to claim the series 2-1.

Athletic officials from both schools shared Skinners' enthusiasm about Saturday's game in Fayetteville.

"It's been a great relationship and partnership between us and the stadium and then the city of Fayetteville," said J.J. McLamb, executive associate athletic director at East Carolina. "What it does is it gives us, the teams that are playing in it, a chance to take their brand of baseball across the state…

"It gives all of your fan base across the state of North Carolina a chance to come in and see a game that they may not be able to make it all the way to Greenville. They can come here to watch us and North Carolina play in Fayetteville. You've got two top-15 teams in the country coming in to a beautiful ballpark, a beautiful city and bring some great baseball to the city of Fayetteville."

The Woodpeckers also were praised for making the two schools feel welcome.

"They've been absolutely great," said Larry Gallo, executive associate athletic director at UNC. "Here they are when they don't have another game here for at least five or six weeks. They don't open until April and they've been very gracious opening up this stadium to us. The field's in absolute superb shape. They've done a wonderful job getting that ready for us to play."

The fans

The crowd appeared to be almost evenly split with many fans sporting East Carolina and North Carolina apparel walking, talking and sitting together. Numerous fans were still pouring into the stadium at 2:30 p.m., 30 minutes after the game's start.

"It's a fun, different experience at a professional ballpark," said 32-year-old East Carolina fan Dustin Futrell of Raleigh, who is a season ticket holder. "It's a lot more fan friendly. There's a lot more amenities. Watching a game here is a lot easier than Greenville (Lewis Field at Clark-LaClair Stadium). It's a lot more open. There's 6,000 fans there in a really tight space."

Chris Tew and his wife Alcina, both 28 and Tar Heel fans, were enjoying the game with their children Trace (1) and Andrew (6). They are UNC season ticket holders.

Chris Tew said he actually attended East Carolina, but is a die-hard North Carolina fan.

"I bleed Carolina blue," Tew said. "This (game) gets the boys out of the house. It gives them somebody to look up to."

Attending the game at Segra is much closer to home than watching from Boshamer Stadium in Chapel Hill, he said.

"You see a lot more local people you know."

Two East Carolina fans traveled from Cedar Point off the coast of North Carolina to attend Saturday's game and planned to attend Sunday's game in Greenville.

Ken and Pat Raper are season ticket holders. Ken is 71 and his wife Pat said she was "over 60".

"It's a nice facility," said Ken.

“A beautiful stadium," said Pat. "And it's easy to get to."

Saturday's game

In Saturday's 7-4 victory, East Carolina starting pitcher Zach Root, a sophomore left-hander, allowed three hits in seven innings with seven strikeouts and no walks. East Carolina took a 7-0 lead before North Carolina rallied with homers by junior outfielder Vance Honeycutt and senior designated hitter Alberto Osuna. Senior first baseman Carter Cunningham and senior second baseman Jacob Starling had four hits each to pace ECU's 15-hit attack.

"It's great. It felt like a home game today," said Root, who has a 2-0 record and hasn't allowed an earned run this season. "The park's awesome. Who wouldn't like coming in here and playing on this field in front of these fans. I can assure you that we go places that will have nowhere near this kind of fans."

East Carolina played against Campbell at Segra Stadium last year, losing 2-1.

"The park is awesome," said East Carolina coach Cliff Godwin. "We played Campbell down here last year which we didn't win, and we won today so I like it a lot better than I did last year. It's a neat thing to be able to do and kind of spread the wealth to different areas in the state of North Carolina, to have fans from all over come here to Fayetteville. There's a lot of East Carolina people down here."

It was the first time UNC played at Segra Stadium.

"It's a beautiful ballpark, great host," said North Carolina coach Scott Forbes. "I was thankful to play here. We were going to play in Durham and it didn't work out. 

"The state of North Carolina deserves games like this early. Two good teams that'll be ranked pretty much every year. A lot of respect for one another. Me and Cliff Godwin are close friends and that's why we do it. We do it for the state."

The future

Everyone involved would like to keep the tradition going.

"Anytime that you can get your brand, that you can get your institutional mark out there and bring in the caliber of baseball that we're bringing to the city of Fayetteville, it's a win-win for both institutions," said ECU's McLamb. "We kind of look at it as it's a home game for anybody involved in it. 

"We're hoping to continue the relationship and the partnership, to play a game here every year. It is a great tool for us and we have a great fan base in the city of Fayetteville to be able to come down and bring that down. And North Carolina has a great fan base here as well."

Segra Stadium is hosting another college baseball game on April 2 when Campbell plays UNC Charlotte. And Woodpeckers GM Skinner wants to expand that college schedule even more.

"Our goal is to show them a great experience here and to be able to drive more colleges here," she said. "And obviously having two top-20 teams here and showcase our facility. The goal is to have a college tournament each year and build that out and have a weekend where we can have top-tier schools"

She's hoping to provide a first-class experience for the teams and fans.

"We try to treat them like we do the minor league players, the visiting teams," Skinner said. "We want to make sure the experience for the players is great, the schools, the athletic directors are here, just showcasing the facility and what we can do."

Skinner also wants to promote her city.

"We were getting emails and videos from people around town pregame," she said. "Everything downtown was hopping and it was just a great environment to have.

"Today was fun. It's nice when the ballpark is packed. Seeing everyone, just the energy around it." 

Gearing up for minor league season

Saturday's game also was a test run for the 2024 Woodpeckers’ home season for several new hires.

"This is a true test for them. We'll have some notes that we'll go through before our opening day," Skinner said. "To see them responding and jump in and learning on the fly was good to see.

"Probably not the most relaxed way to learn on the job with 6,000 people. I would give them a very good grade with some notes."

(Editor's note: a previous version of this story incorrectly stated Saturday's attendance was a record for Segra Stadium.)

Reach Gary Mangum at wickiespidy1@spectrum.net.

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