Flip through the East Carolina University baseball record books and it is difficult to miss Darryl Lawhorn’s name. A three-year member of the Pirates before being drafted in 2004 by […]
Flip through the East Carolina University baseball record books and it is difficult to miss Darryl Lawhorn’s name. A three-year member of the Pirates before being drafted in 2004 by the Arizona Diamondbacks, Lawhorn was part of many great moments while wearing purple and gold, including three consecutive Regional appearances and a Super Regional berth in 2004.
“It was one of the best times of my life,” Lawhorn said about his time at ECU. “Met some of the most memorable people, some of my best friends to this day still. I would not change a thing, that’s for sure. I loved it the most that I could absolutely love anything.”
A product of New Hanover High School in Wilmington, North Carolina, Lawhorn was recruited to ECU by Keith LeClair as a pitcher. One recruiting visit and a good day at the plate, however, changed the Pirates’ plans for Lawhorn and set him on a track to become one of the best freshmen hitters in ECU baseball history.
“Going into it, I didn’t expect to do much because I was brought in as a pitcher,” Lawhorn said. “Coach LeClair came and watched me pitch one game. I had a really good day at the plate and he was like ‘you think you can hit, too?’ I’m like ‘yeah, I’ll give it a go.’”
Never much of a power threat in high school, Lawhorn recalls hitting just two home runs during his high school career, but 18 over two seasons of legion ball in the summer’s of his junior and senior campaigns.
With that kind of success spilling over into his freshman fall in 2001, the pieces were beginning to slide into place for Lawhorn becoming a full-time hitter with the Pirates. The 2001 version of the Pirates made a Super Regional appearance behind a stout pitching staff that included Sam Narron and Will Brinson.
By season’s end, the pitching staff had turned in the 15th-best ERA in the country (3.62) and had several pieces returning for the 2002 season and beyond.
“Coming into the fall of my freshman year in 2001, they brought back the sixth-best pitching staff in the nation from that previous season, the Super Regional team,” Lawhorn said. “In the fall, coach LeClair let me hit, I didn’t really do a whole lot of pitching because they didn’t really need me. They just threw me in the lineup and I just tore it up.”
As a newcomer to a roster that still possessed its wealth of experience and leadership, Lawhorn leaned heavily on the players around him. That group included names like Ben Sanderson and Jamie Paige, both successful players in their own right while at ECU.
“Working a lot with (hitting coach) Kevin McMullan, coach (Tommy) Eason, and just kind of studying the guys that were around me and picking their brain on what to expect,” Lawhorn said. “They helped me out a lot. I guess I would attribute my success that year to the guys around me and all the help I got from the coaching staff.”
The success came in bunches for Lawhorn during his initial season in purple and gold. As a freshman, Lawhorn led the Pirates in every meaningful offensive category including batting average (.416), hits (104), home runs (19), RBI (68) and runs scored (56). He also paced the team in stolen bases with 15.
To this day, Lawhorn still holds the ECU freshman records for runs, hits, batting average, RBI, home runs and total bases. His 64 games played and 250 at-bats during the ‘02 season also still stand as freshman records.
While Lawhorn’s entire body of work doing the 2002 season sticks out, perhaps the most impressive aspect was his home run hitting capability. His 19 are tied for fourth for a single season in ECU history, while his 43 career long balls stand alone in fourth place.
For two seasons Lawhorn paced the Pirates in home runs, earning the team’s triple crown honors in both 2002 and 2003.
“I knew it was there, but I didn’t quite know the capability that I could do,” Lawhorn said. “Not to mention being 18 years old — I only weighed about 155 pounds soaking wet. I got challenged with fastballs a lot. I was really, really good at hitting fastballs, as most hitters are.
“That attributed to my success as well. It seemed like the guys that I faced, they were like ‘this is the one that they’re talking about?’ ‘OK, whatever, I’m just going to try to blow it by him,’ and it didn’t really work out for them all that much.”
Lawhorn said much of his success came from hunting fastballs early in the count. Early in his career at ECU, the undersized Lawhorn saw a lot of those juicy fastballs that he turned into long balls or solid base hits around the diamond.
For his first two seasons at ECU, Lawhorn was the beneficiary of pitchers not respecting him as a hitter, something he turned into a slew of freshman accolades and All-America honors.
A lot of times, collegiate players will struggle in their first year on campus due to a variety of factors. New environments, better competition, inconsistent playing time and possible injuries can detail many freshmen campaigns. For Lawhorn, many of those challenges were overcome pretty easily as he posted one of the best rookie campaigns in ECU history.
“My teammates were kind of shocked at the ability to be able to do it,” Lawhorn said of hitting home runs. “After every game, coach Mac (McMullan) would always come up to me and tell me to eat my slice of humble pie. I took that to heart, I don’t really like to take a whole lot of credit upon myself for a lot of the things that I’ve done because if I didn’t have the guys around me, I wouldn’t have been able to do those things.”
Lawhorn’s outstanding freshman season helped the Pirates win 43 games, hit .294 as a team and make a Regional appearance in Clemson, South Carolina. While they were unable to break through to a College World Series, Lawhorn was also part of the 2004 team that won 51 games, setting a program record for single season victories.
That year, Lawhorn slashed .298/.397/.515 with 10 home runs and 45 RBI. Darryl’s brother Trevor paced the team with 21 long balls as the Pirates hit a collective .318.
Lawhorn’s solid numbers during his final season in Greenville, North Carolina placed him solidly in the top-ten in some important career hitting categories. His .353 life-time batting average is tied for fourth-best, while his 162 RBI and 417 total bases stand alone in seventh. Lawhorn’s aforementioned 43 career home runs rank fourth in program history.
“I wouldn’t have had the success I had if it wasn’t for the seniors pushing me my freshman year, all of the juniors pushing me and the guys around me just to be a good, humble, hard-working baseball player,” Lawhorn said.