Three blown leads and three closes losses left a bad taste in East Carolina coach Cliff Godwin’s mouth this past weekend.
Godwin’s homecoming to Oxford, where he was an assistant coach for three seasons at Ole Miss, didn’t go like he had hoped it would.
The perennial SEC power rode the momentum of great, rowdy crowds for three days to a series sweep of the Pirates.
“It was a great atmosphere,” said Godwin in his office on Monday morning. “A great weekend but obviously not the results we were looking for. We competed our butts off. I can’t fault them for the way they competed. They fought hard until the last out yesterday. If you look at the weekend you look at five pitches. If we do things differently on the offensive side or defensive side we’re 3-0 instead of 0-3.”
Godwin maintained that the tough start doesn’t handicap his team going forward. He says his club will certainly bounce back and the sting of the defeats will pay dividends down the road.
“I wouldn’t say we’re in a hole,” he explained. “I just think we had some tough losses this weekend and we’ll be a lot better for it down the road. We’re not going to play a better team in an atmosphere like that for a long time. It was a postseason environment. If you watched the game the crowd was electric. When they got momentum going it was as hard to communicate with our players as it was at Texas Tech. We were the most prepared team that I have ever coached, but it just didn’t work out.”
A record crowd of 12,117 was on hand for Friday night’s opener.
The 33,070 fans in attendance for the series also shattered the former record.
The homecoming was nice for Godwin, but he said he was glad it was over. He’s not sure if he wants to do it again.
“It was emotional,” said Godwin. “I recruited a lot of those guys. We had the bases loaded and Dallas Woolfolk comes in. I recruited that kid. He comes in and throws 95 miles per hour with a slider and he strikes out the side. It’s tough because I love those kids because their families chose Ole Miss and a big part of it was because we recruited them. I’m glad it’s over.”
The series got off to a great start. Dwanya Williams-Sutton led off the game with a solo home run. It was an 11-pitch at-bat, with the 11th pitch exiting the ballpark off of Williams-Sutton’s bat.
“I’ve been coaching for a long time and I have never seen an at-bat like that,” said Godwin. “Even if he hadn’t hit the home run I told him that it was as impressive at-bat that I’ve been a part of as a coach. To start the season off with a home run it was great. It gave us some momentum for a half inning. If we could have gotten that shut down inning in the bottom of the first things could have been a little different.”
Unfortunately that seemed to be the theme all weekend long. Every time the Pirates would get ahead, Ole Miss would trump the effort by either tying or taking the lead.
That was never more evident than in game three, where the Pirates scored four runs in the top of the 6th to take a 6-2 lead. The Rebels countered with a five-run frame that gave them the lead for good, and ultimately the series sweep.
Oddly, the team’s strength in its NCAA Super Regional run last year let the Pirates down in the opening series.
Relievers Sam Lanier and Matt Bridges were lights out a year ago. Lanier took the loss in game two, giving up three earned runs on five hits in an inning of work.
Bridges got only one batter out on Sunday, giving up four earned runs on two hits and a walk.
“The margin of error is razor thin in the game of baseball when two great teams are playing each other,” Godwin concluded. “You’re talking about one pitch, one play in a crucial situation. We want our players to understand how crucial the little things are. If we continue to get better at those things then the rest will take care of itself.”
That series is over but the ECU baseball season is just beginning. The Pirates travel to Campbell on Wednesday before hosting LaSalle this weekend in a three-game series at Clark-LeClair Stadium.
Hopefully these early losses will sting for a while for this ECU baseball team. There should be a chip on the Pirates’ shoulders all season long courtesy of a lost weekend at Ole Miss.