Four games into the season and East Carolina’s record is a spotless 4-0.
Led by Brady Lloyd at .545 and Jake Washer, who is hitting .428, the Pirates have six players batting over .300. The team average is a healthy .295.
ECU’s combined earned run average is 2.25.
“Up to this point, we’ve liked what we’ve seen,” said fourth-year coach Cliff Godwin. “We’ve played a lot of different guys and pitched a lot of different guys. The guys have done a good job. They’ve really played well. There’s no complaints from me as far as the way we’ve played. We just want to continue to get better.”
Leadership was a question mark as the Pirates lost mainstays such as Evan Kruczynski and Tyler Watkins from a team that started ranked No. 6 nationally in 2017 before going 32-28 overall and 7-17 in the American Athletic Conference.
The Pirates are yet to crack the polls, but a new approach appears to be flourishing. It’s all hands on deck.
“It’s really spread throughout the team,” Godwin said. “We have a lot of guys that are picking up individual leadership. We’ve talked about having 35 leaders. The team chose not to have team captains, so we don’t have team captains. They wanted to have 35 leaders and it’s really just spread out through the team.
“Within that, you’ve got Turner Brown and Dusty Baker, Andrew Henrickson, West Covington, Ryan Ross, Chris Holba, Trey Benton, Jake Agnos. There’s just a lot more guys that have taken ownership of what the team is doing. It’s been really neat to see.”
Godwin used eight pitchers Wednesday in a 7-2 win at Campbell. Roles among the moundsmen are still being defined.
“It’s still a work in progress,” Godwin said. “There’s a lot of roles still open out there. Obviously, we like Gavin Williams at the back end. We have some lefty and righty matchups. Ryan Ross can get some lefties out. Alec Burleson, even though he started (Wednesday), we can use him out of the bullpen when he’s fresh.
“Then you have Davis Kirkpatrick, Matt Bridges, Sam Lanier, with others that can get righties out so we really like the depth of our bullpen. Tyler Smith is kind of the jack of all trades. He can start, pitch long relief and he can pitch short relief.”
Burleson, a freshman, has been employed as a position player as well as a pitcher.
“He’s a good player,” Godwin said. “Definitely, a two-way talent at this level. What I tell people all the time, the best thing about Alec Burleson is that he’s a competitor. He competes. He doesn’t like losing. He probably gets more out of his talent than just about anybody else on our team just because he hates losing.”
Injuries became a factor for ECU last season. After three competitive losses before massive crowds at Ole Miss to start the 2017 season, the Pirates began regrouping but lost Dwanya Williams-Sutton, the AAC’s batting leader in 2016, to an injury in a 10-0 win at Campbell.
There was a lengthy roll call on the injured list last year.
“You’re going to have injuries,” Godwin said. “Turner Brown missed two games this weekend (sweep of Western Carolina) and Nick Barber came right in and filled in great.
“This year’s team is deeper and I think we’re more prepared to handle those injuries than we were last year. I think we’re more mature. I think going through the injury bug that we had last year with Dwanya (Williams-Sutton), Kruczynski, Holba, Bryce Harman. I think there was like two position players that didn’t miss time last year, so I think that has prepared us more for this year. We’re definitely going to have injuries. That’s just part of the game, but I think we’re more prepared.”
USA collegiate team
Godwin will coach third base for the USA’s collegiate all-star team this summer. The stars will play a series in Cuba. The Pirates coach said he won’t be trying to get any talent to defect to ECU.
“I’ve never been to Cuba,” Godwin said. “I don’t think I’ll be recruiting down there. We’ll just be focused on trying to win games down there, win games for the USA.”
Three games, three sites
There is a lot of excitement about a pending three-game series with North Carolina (2-3). The teams play at Clark-LeClair Stadium this evening at 5 p.m. The series moves to Durham Bulls Athletic Park for a 6 p.m. game Saturday and concludes with a 1 p.m. matchup Sunday at Boshamer Stadium in Chapel Hill.
ECU will be the home team for the first two games.
Godwin talked about the novel format,
“There are some teams that do this in other spots, where they at least play one game at a neutral site,” said the Pirates coach. “They might play two other midweek games, one at one place, one at the other. We thought if we could do it on a weekend, it would be pretty cool for baseball in the state of North Carolina. … We’re looking forward to having big crowds and really just neat environment for our kids and for North Carolina’s kids because I think we’ll have big crowds on all three games.”
Time, Pirates flying
Godwin is in his fourth year as coach at ECU, but he said it doesn’t seem that long ago that he took over the reins at his alma mater.
“Definitely, it seems a lot quicker than four years,” Godwin said. “It definitely doesn’t feel like four years.”
One of his objectives at the outset was improving team speed.
“This is the first team that we’ve really had guys that were capable of going out there and stealing bases when teams kind of know that you’re going to try to run,” he said. “When you draw up an offense, in my opinion, the ones that I like to coach, you’ve got speed at the top, you’ve got speed at the bottom and then you’ve got kind of the big boys in the middle that can hit doubles and home runs.
“When you look at our lineup, that’s what you kind of see now. It just makes it tough for opposing pitching staffs and defenses. That’s the way we like to draw it up. We’re looking forward to continuing to pressure teams with our speed and our power.”
Time flies when you’re having fun, which is one of the objectives of Cliff’s Cab, a unique converted golf cart, which is a combination of a ride to class for students, a means of encouraging support for the baseball program and a video production.
“We’ve had two episodes this year and it’s gone great,” Godwin said. “We’ll have about five more throughout the spring season.”
The Pirates will use the rotation that worked against Western.
“We’re going Benton, Agnos, Holba, just like we did last weekend,” Godwin said.