Make if five in a row for East Carolina in the Keith LeClair Classic.
The Pirates swept the field this past weekend for Cliff Godwin’s third consecutive LeClair Classic title in as many years. ECU also won the event in 2013 and 2014.
Sixteenth-ranked St. John’s went 2-1 in the event. Appalachian State was 1-2 and Western Carolina went 0-3.
It was the Catamounts, though, that gave ECU its best game, a 5-4 walk-off win for the Pirates in the opening game.
With the weekend sweep ECU will take an eight-game winning streak into their two-game midweek series at the College of Charleston this week.
That first game set the tone. Pirate ace Evan Kruczynski was hit with a line drive in the third inning and had to come out of the game.
Enter freshman lefthander Jake Agnos. Agnos struck out 11 of the 16 batters he faced in a dazzling display of power from a freshman.
It was a prime example of the ‘next man up’ mentality this team has.
The Pirates lost potential starter Bryce Harmon in the preseason. Freshman Spencer Brickhouse stepped in.
Dwanya Williams-Sutton was hurt in the Campbell game. Several Pirates have worked to fill that void.
Then Kruz goes down, and Agnos puts on a show!
“I’ve talked about the depth of our team and that’s a credit to our coaches and our recruiting,” said Godwin. “The last two years we couldn’t have handled a Dwanya [Williams-Sutton] or a Bryce [Harmon] going down. We had Kruz (Evan Kruczynski) go down in the third inning Friday night with an ankle injury. Last year we didn’t have a Jake Agnos to throw out there and strike out 11 batters in five innings. Our depth is our strength.”
ECU senior Eric Tyler couldn’t agree more.
“We told you guys in the preseason that we are deeper then we have ever been,” said Tyler. “We wanted to prove it this month with these injuries.”
Tyler grinned as he made his statement. He and the rest of this squad can’t wait to get their injured teammates back.
The Pirates improved to 8-3 with the LeClair Classic sweep, staying on the course that Godwin set up for his squad to start the season.
“Our goal is to go 8-3 in every 11-game stretch,” said Godwin. “If we are able to do that we will win our 40 games. We reached our first goal and we’ll start our next 11-game stretch on Tuesday.”
That stretch starts today in Charleston with a 5 p.m. matchup against the Cougars. The teams will tangle again on Wednesday at 2:30 p.m.
Sunday’s finale in the LeClair Classic, a 4-0 blanking of Appalachian State, was highlighted by the pitching of Trey Benton.
Benton allowed just two hits in seven innings. He struck out eight and didn’t walk a batter.
“I felt good out there but I have to thank the guys behind me,” said Benton. “They were making web gems and really playing great defense to support me.”
“I thought the first inning he was trying to find his command,” said Godwin. “He pitched better today than he did last week, when he had all of the strikeouts.”
Throughout this eight-game winning streak the Pirates have gotten it done in the late innings. With the game on the line, this East Carolina team has made the big plays.
“Maybe we learned something from Ole Miss,” said Godwin. “I don’t think we were at our best with the game on the line out there.”
Nobody likes to lose, but perhaps those three losses in Oxford left a taste in this team’s mouth that will pay dividends all season long.
For now, it’s another year and another LeClair Classic title for Godwin and his program.
“It means a lot,” said Godwin. “Words can’t express it. Our kids know all about it. They want to get to Omaha and compete for a national championship, not just for them but for all of Pirate Nation. It would be for anyone that has ever played here.”
Godwin continued with this gem.
“Davey Penney, who played when I did, spoke to the team and he told them that when they go to Omaha, all of the former players will be with them. Maybe physically, but certainly spiritually. It means a lot because this place is special.”
Coach LeClair would certainly be proud of the way this team competed this weekend.
Godwin thinks LeClair might have even been smiling from above when he got ejected from Saturday night’s game. Godwin was booted after arguing a balk call during what ultimately turned out to be a win over St. John’s.
“Coach would be proud,” Godwin said with a smile. “I think he would be proud when I got thrown out the other day.”
LeClair’s influence on this program continues in a big way under Godwin.
You can almost here the feint echo of LeClair’s words throughout the stadium that bears his name.
“We will make it to Omaha. I can promise you that. And it won’t be too long before that happens.” — Keith LeClair