There’s no better salve for what ails you in sports than winning.
So it’s understandable if East Carolina fans let out at least a small sigh of relief Wednesday after their highly-ranked baseball team finally got into the win column following an opening weekend sweep at the hands of Ole Miss.
The reality of the situation, however, is that coach Cliff Godwin’s Pirates are no better or worse off now than they were before their therapeutic 10-0 shellacking of Campbell. The college season is simply too long to get worked up about a handful of games here and there, especially this early in the season.
Those three road losses to the Rebels in a battle of top 10 teams — by a grand total of four runs — was the equivalent of yielding three quick runs in the top of the first. It’s not the ideal way to start, but there’s still plenty of innings left to get back into the game.
Godwin pointed out as much upon his team’s return from Mississippi on Monday.
While acknowledging that “some guys need to get better, absolutely,” the third-year coach added that his Pirates were “not a different” team from the one that started the season ranked sixth nationally by Baseball America and are the overwhelming pick to win the American Athletic Conference.
In fact, the narrative from the opening series would have been drastically different had ECU been able to hang onto any or all of the leads it held at some point in each of the three games. A bounce here or a seeing eye hit there and the Pirates could easily have come home on top of the world at 3-0 instead of 0-3.
“You’re talking about five pitches that could have gone either way,” Godwin said.
Despite the disappointing results, the trip to Mississippi was hardly a lost weekend.
Among the most positive takeaways was the play of junior outfielder Luke Bolka. A role player who split time between a utility role on the field and as a relief pitcher out of the bullpen during his first two seasons, Bolka showed signs that he can be an effective middle-of-the-order hitter by going 4 for 8 with a homer, two RBIs and three walks against the Rebels.
Godwin and his staff also got an early and unexpected glimpse of both their team’s depth and their highly regarded freshman class because of injuries to starters Bryce Harman and Turner Brown.
With first baseman Harman sidelined because of a wrist injury, rookie Spencer Brickhouse stepped in and performed admirably — hitting a homer in his first college game while going 4 for 12 at the plate and handling all 18 defensive chances without an error. Fellow freshman Nick Barber reached base twice and drove in a run with a squeeze bunt after being pressed into service at shortstop after Brown injured his finger on a bunt attempt of his own on Saturday.
Another rookie, Bryant Packard, was pressed into service on Wednesday against the Camels after leadoff man Dwanya Williams-Sutton left the game with an apparent wrist injury after his first at bat. Packard responded with an RBI triple that put the finishing touches on the lopsided victory.
The 10 runs scored against the Camels, combined with the two-hit shutout pitching of starter Chris Holba and three relievers, hints at a resilience that could benefit the Pirates greatly as the season wears on and the stakes get higher.
It’s a competitiveness they showed from the very first at bat of the new season — an epic 11-pitch battle that saw preseason All-American Williams-Sutton foul off pitch after pitch after pitch before finally driving a home run over the left field wall.
Even though ECU went on to lose the game 5-4, it was the kind of start that could set the tone for the entire season.
“We talk about how there are no winners and losers, there’s winners and learners,” senior second baseman Charlie Yorgen said. “So we just have to learn from these experiences and move forward.”
AUDIO: CLIFF GODWIN, CHRIS HOLBA, T.J. RIALS POSTGAME
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