East Carolina began moving forward following a 6-2 home loss to North Carolina almost immediately after the final out Wednesday night after 4,961 fans had converged on Clark-LeClair Stadium.
“We have a routine for everything we do,” said Pirates coach and alumnus Cliff Godwin on Thursday morning. “First off, we meet with our team. We talk about, very briefly, why we lost the game. We give them the schedule for tomorrow. I meet with the media and then, normally, the coaches and I talk for 10 or 15 minutes about what the plan will be for tomorrow. We’re going to have a staff meeting this morning and then go over what we’re going to do at practice today.”
The Pirates could have held UNC scoreless in the fourth inning but a throwing error with two out allowed the Tar Heels to score a run. The next batter, Brandon Riley, hit a three-run homer for a 5-1 UNC lead.
“Everybody wants to look to that inning but you go to the bottom of the third when we scored the run,” Godwin said. “We had a runner at third base with less than two outs with Travis Watkins, arguably our best hitter, and we don’t get him in with less than two. [Spencer] Brickhouse doesn’t get a two-out RBI so really, to me, that’s the game changer.
“Yes, the game was tied at that point but if we go ahead then the momentum swings to our dugout. Like any sport, baseball is a game of momentum so if you have the momentum in your dugout, maybe [Jacob] Wolfe goes out there — maybe he doesn’t walk two guys. Maybe we make the play because we feel good about ourselves. To me that was the turning point of, hey, let’s get some momentum and, obviously, the fourth inning you can’t put two free baserunners on and then not make a play. Really, we’re lucky, even before that, because we put four free baserunners on in three innings and for them to have only scored one run at a point in time when they could have done more damage.”
Weather not an excuse
It was cold and a breeze added to the chill factor as the Tar Heels came to town but the Pirates coach didn’t see conditions as a factor.
“I don’t think the weather affected the game at all,” Godwin said. “We train our guys to play in anything. Both teams have got to play in it. I don’t ever talk about the weather. It is what it is. If it’s 45 degrees, it’s 45 degrees. If it’s 80 degrees, it’s 80 degrees, so we don’t talk about the weather.”
Win at Elon
The Pirates took an 11-7 win at Elon on Tuesday night, snapping a three-game losing streak after being swept by visiting Mercer in a series last weekend.
“Anytime, you can go on the road and win — and Elon is not an easy place to play just because it’s a very small ball park,” Godwin said. “For us to go there and get a win was extremely important. We swung the bats well but still we didn’t execute as much as I would like to see, offensively or on the mound. But we did enough to win so that makes it better.
“But to be honest, we haven’t played well. Even when we played the College of Charleston those two games and we won both of those games, we really haven’t played good baseball. It kind of started there. We’ve done enough to win some games but if we don’t play better, it’s going to be a very up and down year because we’re very inconsistent at this point in time.”
Kruczynski and injuries factor
As ECU starts a series with Towson at 6:30 tonight, Friday’s starter for most of the last three seasons, senior left-hander Evan Kruczynski, remains sidelined.
“It’s going to be awhile,” Godwin said. “It will be longer than sooner. It will probably be a month before he gets on the mound. . . . He’s got a broken bone in his leg.”
The ailment has not prevented Kruczynski from staying connected to the game or the team.
“He’s a great teammate,” Godwin said. “He’s like an assistant coach right now. He’s talking to pitchers. He’s such a presence in our dugout. He’s long tossing in a chair to keep his arm in shape. Evan Kruczynski is the least of our worries because that kid is one of the best kids I’ve ever coached and the toughest kid I’ve ever coached and the best teammate I’ve ever coached. He’s doing everything he can.
“People want to feel sorry for him but that’s life. Kruz and I have talked about it. He’s going to be back and he’s going to be back this year. He’s going to pitch for us this year. He’s going to miss probably six to eight weeks of the season and we’ve got to keep our head above water while he’s hurt.
“When he comes back, he’s going to be fresh. He’s never been fresh in the postseason but he’ll be fresh in the postseason this year, which gives the Pirates a huge advantage.”
“Tell me a team that could have survived with three of their best players going down at one time,” Godwin said. ” . . . The only team I know is standing right here in Greenville right now. Our kids have fought. We’re going to get better and we’re going to survive it. When Kruz gets back and Dwanya [Williams-Sutton] gets back, we’re going to be in great shape.”
Senior first baseman Bryce Harman returned recently from a wrist ailment that kept him out of action at the outset of the season. Harman was 1-for-3 with an RBI on Wednesday night.
“He’s still not 100 percent,” Godwin said. “Bryce wants to be out there. He’s got his wrist taped up every day, extremely tight. The kid was in such a good place before he got hurt. He’s just trying to get back into it.
“Hitting is such a repetition thing where you have to get your swings in but you also have to get your timing and you face quality pitching. It’s not like you’re just going out and running a sprint or making a tackle or playing defense. It’s much different and he’s handled it very well.”
Freshman Spencer Brickhouse stepped up with Harman out. Brickhouse leads the team in home runs with six.
“He’s done good,” Godwin said. “It’s a good thing that we had him so we had somebody that could fill in and step in right away. He did a great job while Bryce was out.”
The Pirates (14-8) have been missing Williams-Sutton since the fourth game of the season. He led the American Athletic Conference with a .360 average last year as a freshman.
“There’s a good chance you’ll see [Williams-Sutton] play [tonight],” Godwin said.
Godwin was asked what was important in the last weekend series before starting AAC play.
“For us to play better,” he said. “For us to pitch better. For us to play better defense, for us to execute offensively better. We need to play better. People don’t understand the parity of college baseball right now. It’s not 15 years ago when LSU was winning national championships, going to Omaha every year. That doesn’t happen. It doesn’t happen anymore because of the parity of college baseball.
“All fans want to get fired up for the Carolina game but we need fans in the ball park when we play Mercer, when we play Towson because if we don’t play well, we’re going to lose. That’s the bottom line. That’s how good college baseball is, up and down.”
Two freshmen will toe the rubber to start the weekend rotation.
“We’re going to go with Jake Agnos and Trey Benton,” Godwin said. “Then we’re going to go TBA (to be announced).
The Pirates were preseason favorites in the AAC but it appears there will be plenty of competition in the league race.
“It looks like South Florida (20-2) is playing really well,” Godwin said. “Houston (15-5) is really good. Cincinnati (10-10) just beat Louisville, which was undefeated. Memphis (13-7) has been playing well. UConn (10-8) always starts out a little bit slow but they’ll be in the mix. UCF (18-4) has played unbelievably. It’s one of the best conferences in the country. We need to pay better starting (tonight) so we can get ready for a very tough conference schedule.”
The Pirates open AAC play at home against Connecticut on Friday, March 31, at 6:30 p.m.
How good is Mercer?
The Bears improved to 19-4 this week with a pair of wins over Florida A&M.
“They beat Georgia twice,” Godwin noted. “They’re very good. They’re very offensive. They have a couple of pitchers who can kind of shoot you down at times. In my opinion, they’re very good. Could we have beaten them all three games? Absolutely, but they came in here and took care of business. . . . [J.T. Thomas] was definitely the real deal the weekend he played us.”
Thomas homered three times in the series at ECU.
Pirates have closed strong
ECU has saved some of its best for late in the season in Godwin’s first two years as coach, winning the AAC Tournament in 2015 and capturing its first ever Super Regional victory at Texas Tech last season.
“No. 1, as a coach, you always want to play your best baseball at the end of the year,” Godwin said in retrospect. “Very different years. In our first year, I don’t know if the guys really thought they could win with the talent that we had. All of a sudden, we had a couple of winning streaks. It kind of spread where we realized we could do this. We can win one-run games. We went to the conference tournament and won the conference tournament championship.
“A lot gets lost in that but I really thought our guys just emptied the tanks during the conference tournament championship run. We were very thin that year. We didn’t have a lot of depth so everybody was playing every single day. Joe Ingle closed out three games in the conference tournament during that week. Reed Love pitched and was playing center field. They gave us everything that they had during the conference tournament run. We went to a regional and played a very good Columbia team, who beat us. That was Kruczynski’s first regional start. He didn’t pitch terrible but he didn’t pitch good. It was an experience for us. Obviously, we played FIU and, offensively, we just couldn’t do anything really. I thought our swings were tired.”
The Pirates exited the AAC Tournament after two games last season but went home and got ready for the NCAA Tournament.
“Last year, I thought that going 0-2 (in the AAC Tournament), which nobody wants, allowed us to come back and really get back to our roots,” Godwin said. “Like practice hard and scrimmage like it was the fall and really get after it. It was a perfect storm. We got sent to (Virginia), which we had beaten them two out of three times. It was a comfortable environment. Our guys weren’t scared and weren’t uncomfortable. They went there and we played well.
“We beat a very good Bryant team. Bryant could have very easily won that regional if Kruczynski hadn’t pitched like unbelievable, we would have gotten beat that game. Then we beat UVa and beat William & Mary. We played our best baseball at the end of the season last year.”