Expectations can be a tricky proposition, because they don’t always jive with reality — especially when they run as high as they are for the East Carolina baseball team these days.
But given the momentum the Pirates have built over the past two seasons and the team coach Cliff Godwin has assembled for his third year in the dugout at his alma mater, there’s every reason to believe that there could be a championship in their future.
ECU has already been established as a heavy favorite to win the American Athletic Conference, picking up six of a possible eight first place votes in a preseason poll of the league’s head coaches. But after what Coastal Carolina accomplished in 2016, shocking the college baseball world by going to Omaha and winning a national championship, why set the bar so low?
Ranked as high as sixth nationally by Baseball America, it’s not unreasonable to envision ECU crashing the party at this year’s College World Series and making a little history of its own.
After all, the Pirates were only 90 feet away from getting just such a chance a year ago.
Who knows what might have happened had they been able to get Parker Lamm home from third base in the bottom of the 12th against Texas Tech in the second game of their Super Regional series against the Red Raiders?
The fact that ECU got so close, taking out defending national champion Virginia along the way, should give Godwin and his team the confidence that they can compete with anyone in the country regardless of conference affiliation or national reputation.
If nothing else, it should give the Pirates plenty of motivation heading into the new season.
But then, motivation can only take a team so far.
The college baseball season is a long one and though it would be nice for ECU to pick up right where it left off with the figurative winning run on third and a trip to Omaha on the line, it will have to start over from scratch in the batter’s box just like everyone else.
With a little more than a week to go before the season opening three-game series at Ole Miss, Godwin said he likes what he’s seen from his veteran team.
“They’ve done a tremendous job of being very mature about their approach,” he said at ECU’s preseason media day last week. “That’s what you want to see.”
As much of an emphasis as Godwin has put on consistency and not getting caught looking too far into the future, he’s also not shy about publicly stating some lofty goals for the Pirates this season, specifically building a resume strong enough to host an NCAA regional or Super Regional in Greenville.
“I didn’t think we were consistent last year in our body of work and that’s why we had to go on the road to play in Charlottesville against the defending national champion and Texas Tech,” Godwin said. “Hopefully we can put ourselves in position to host a regional or Super Regional this year.”
All the elements are in place for that to happen.
The Pirates return 19 lettermen from last year’s 38-23-1 team, including the AAC’s preseason co-Pitcher of the Year Evan Kruczynski, preseason All-American Dwanya Williams-Sutton and one of the nation’s premier bullpen closers in Joe Ingle, along with catcher Travis Watkins, MVP of the Charlottesville regional.
They also have plenty of experience to go around with a roster dominated by nine juniors and nine seniors.
It’s a group of players that has proven its ability to exceed expectations by winning the AAC tournament title in Godwin’s first season of 2015 and bringing home that regional crown as a No. 3 seed a year ago. Now, with the bar set as high as its ever been, all they have to do is go out and show they can live up to expectations, too.