East Carolina rallied from deficits of 3-2 and 5-4 to defeat Campbell 14-6 on Senior Night on Tuesday. It was a special evening for third-year Pirates coach Cliff Godwin on several levels.
“Just really proud that they could go out on top in their last game at Clark-LeClair and the way those guys played,” Godwin said. “You never know how it’s going to go. You want it to go so well for them. You want it so bad for them but you just don’t know. For those guys to go out there and play the way they played last night — Travis [Watkins] hit two home runs. [Luke] Bolka hit a big, three-run homer. Charlie [Yorgen] hit a two-run homer. Eric Tyler with two RBIs. Wes Phillips with two RBIs. Bryce [Harman] was manning first base as usual. Just really special.
“What these guys have meant to me, personally, words can’t describe it. It’s a group that has maneuvered through a coaching change. I went through a coaching change in my college career and it’s not easy. People don’t realize that. To have to buy in to a new culture, to trust a new coaching staff and really not have a lot of time to do it. You do it on the fly. For what those guys have done, not just on the field, but off the field in the classroom to average over a 3.1 GPA over the past three years, over 2,000 community service hours over the past three years.
“And then, what they’ve done on the field. People live in the present moment a lot but these seniors need to be remembered for the 2015 conference tournament championship. They need to be remembered for the 2016 regional championship. They need to be remembered for their body of work. What they’ve done is as good as any group that’s ever played at East Carolina. These guys have won championships. These guys are winners in life. These guys will always hold a very special place in my heart.”
Sophomore right-hander Chris Holba saw his first action for ECU since being struck by a line drive at Houston on April 7.
“He was amped up,” Godwin said. “The first two batters, he struck out. He had the next guy with two strikes. You thought it was just going to be easy for him but, of course, it’s not. His stuff was really good. He was nervous. He was rusty, all those things, but I think his next outing will be even more clean just because he’s got his feet back wetter and he’ll be much more comfortable his next time out.”
Holba got the win as the pitcher of record when Luke Bolka put the Pirates ahead to stay at 7-5 with a three-run homer in the bottom of the fifth.
Holba was equipped witb a protective facemask.
“He’ll have to wear that for the rest of the season just to protect his face because if he were to get hit back in the face again it would really do a lot of damage to the surgery and the work that he had done,” Godwin said.
Facemasks are common among pitchers and infielders in softball. With an increased emphasis on player safety across the board in sports, Godwin wouldn’t be surprised to see the use of facemasks increase in baseball.
“If you just look at how helmets are made now with some of the hitters,” Godwin said. “Some of them have an extra flap. I definitely think in my lifetime you’ll probably see that stuff. If the guys continue to hit the ball harder, guys are throwing harder so balls are coming off the bat at a crazy exit velocity, so I definitely think so down the road. You definitely could see something like that.”
Kirk Morgan, good innings
Kirk Morgan has given ECU some good innings of late.
He struck out six Camels in three innings Tuesday. Morgan has a 2-0 mound record with a 2.70 earned run average. He also has driven in five runs.
“Kirk is a guy who is a great teammate,” Godwin said. “Any success he gets is well deserved. Kirk has been through a lot here, coming to East Carolina, really not being healthy with the ACL injury out of high school. He’s never been what he feels like athletic-wise the guy he was before the ACL injury. He’s been a great teammate even when he’s not been playing every day. He’s been a very unselfish person.”
Pirates first baseman Bryce Harman fielded a ground ball and made a play at first that appeared to end the top of the fifth inning. ECU didn’t get the call and the Camels subsequently took advantage of the situation with a two-run single by Drew Butler for a 5-4 lead.
The umpiring crew visited Godwin as a group on the third-base side to explain the situation. The Pirates coach didn’t appear to be in agreement with the explanation.
It was not a play that could be reviewed even if ECU had the technical capabilities.
“You can’t even review that type of play but next year we should have video review in our stadium to go along with our nice scoreboard,” Godwin said. “Right now, there’s a few things that you get to review. One of them is a play at home plate, safe or out. Catch or no catch in the outfield. Fair or foul in the outfield, not on the infield, and then a fair or foul home run. Those are the kinds of things you can get reviewed right now if you have that capability. Right now, we don’t have that capability at our stadium.”
Godwin has not looked at tape of the play at first.
“There’s no need for me to look at it,” Godwin said. “They made the call. The call is what it is.”
West Covington (2-1) gave the Pirates two and two-thirds scoreless innings in a 3-2 win over Memphis on Sunday as ECU won an AAC series for the third time in its last four tries. Covington also helped hold Campbell at bay on Tuesday.
“He’s from Memphis,” Godwin said of Covington. “When I was at Ole Miss, he played with the Dulin Dodgers and we recruited them a lot so I’ve known West for a long time. He was basically a high school shortstop. He went to junior college [Gulf Coast State College] and we recruited him. He had Tommy John [surgery] his sophomore season in junior college.
“He was rehabbing from Tommy John here last year. It’s taken him a while to get comfortable again after the Tommy John surgery but when we went to Houston and we had that tough weekend up there and Holba got hurt, we actually brought him in on the Friday night game. He threw four pitches and got four outs. The next day he came in and the first two batters he faced, he got two outs. He actually pitched six pitches and his six pitches were ground ball outs. That’s really kind of springboarded him into the role he’s been in but he’s always been a great teammate. He served as kind of a bullpen coach for us last year. He still does that as far as making sure guys are ready to go
“He’s a wonderful kid and a wonderful person. I’m so glad he’s seeing success on the field.”
Familiarity with UConn
The Pirates will be facing Connecticut for the 17th time since joining the AAC at 7:05 tonight.
“I don’t know if any two teams know each other better than the Huskies and the Pirates,” Godwin said. “Over the past three years, we’ve played them twice each year. We played them once in the conference tournament in 2015. Do the math. It’s a lot of games against each other. I’m actually really pleased that Wichita State is coming in the league so we don’t have to play UConn six times.
“They’re playing for first place and that will be a tough weekend up, there but we’ve been up there before. People have asked me do I think we can win up there. I’ve said, ‘We’ve somehow done it the past two years.’ A lot of people wouldn’t think we’d be able to win up there. It should be tough because they are fighting for first place.”
ECU was 2-1 at UConn in 2015 and 2016. The Huskies swept a series at ECU on March 31-April 2 this season.
ECU can help seeding
The Pirates, preseason favorites in the AAC, are in the cellar of the league standings going into the series at UConn. ECU is one game behind Memphis.
The Pirates could possibly improve their seeding for next week’s conference tournament although that is not the priority.
“We’re going to need some help from other people,” Godwin said. “Your pitching this week, you’re already on a short day of rest because your Friday guy goes to Thursday, your Saturday guy goes to Friday and your Sunday guy goes to Saturday. That really strains your pitching staff.
“For us to make an NCAA regional, we’ve got to win the conference tournament. We’ve got to make sure this weekend we don’t strain our pitching staff where we can’t put ourselves in the best situation to win if we play on Tuesday.
“So Evan Kruczynski is not going to pitch this weekend. Trey Benton is not going to pitch this weekend because we need those guys to be ready for next week. [Jake] Agnos will pitch. I don’t know if he’s going to start. We definitely want him to be fresh as well. Jacob Wolfe is going to pitch [tonight]. We’ll kind of figure out the rest as we go.”
On to Clearwater
The Pirates will not be returning to Greenville after the series at UConn, flying instead to Clearwater, FL, for the AAC Tournament.
The Pirates who celebrated Senior Night on Tuesday have extensive experience in postseason play.
“It’s a veteran group,” Godwin said. “They’ve been down here. They know what to expect. They’ve won a tournament. They’ve been 0-2 in a tournament so we’ve done both extremes down here in two years. Anything can happen in a conference tournament. These kids have been tested as much as any kids I’ve ever been around with all the things that have happened to us this year with injuries and people being removed from the team. It’s been a very challenging year. These kids have been tested. What doesn’t break you, makes you tougher. I think we’re in a good spot right now.”
Cliff’s cab in garage
Godwin has an entertaining series of episodes on YouTube called “Cliff’s Cab,” where he gives selected students rides around campus.
The extra-long customized golf cart has been parked for the time being.
“Cliff’s cab is up for the year,” Godwin said. “We’re out of school so there’s no need to ride around campus on Cliff’s cab. There’s no students there.”
The pecking order
Here’s a look at the AAC standings and the remaining regular season schedule heading into the first round games of the tournament: