East Carolina freshmen pitchers Jake Agnos, Trey Benton and Tyler Smith all started last weekend against Towson and all three won. That’s a tribute to the quality of the young arms the Pirates have attracted but ECU coach Cliff Godwin said the process also involves indoctrination from older players.
“I don’t know if anybody is starting three freshmen on the weekend,” Godwin said. “It’s the first time in school history. That’s a feat in itself. I’m very proud of those guys and how they have performed. . . .
“Really, our older guys have done a great job, going back to summer workouts and the fall, just preparing those guys and helping them understand what the expectations are, not just on the field but off the field, teaching them our culture that we are a family and the older guys help the younger guys. Really, a lot of credit goes to our older guys.”
The Pirates (18-8) are hitting .314 as a team going into a three-game American Athletic Conference series with Connecticut. The first game is scheduled for 6:30 tonight but adjustments could be made with the possibility of rain in the forecast.
“We’re pretty deep offensively, one through nine,” Godwin said. “When I say one through nine, it’s really one through 13 or 14 probably because there’s a lot of different faces in the lineup on any given day. We’ve done a great job, especially coach [Jeff] Palumbo and coach [Dan] Roszel, recruiting and getting very good players in here so we can be pretty deep and be able to handle injuries like we’ve had.”
Dwanya Williams-Sutton was out for 18 games with a thumb injury but has shown few ill affects from the down time. He hit two solo homers in an 8-6 win over Liberty on Tuesday night and has a .387 average. He hit .360 as a freshman in 2016 and led the league.
“When you talk about Dwanya going down and Kruz (senior left-handed pitcher Evan Kruczynski) being down and Bryce [Harman] being down, ” Godwin said. “All three of them were down at one time and really still playing pretty good baseball, it’s a pretty good feat. Offensively, we swing the bats well. I think we answered the challenge after the Mercer weekend (March 17-19), which I thought we left a lot of runs sitting on the bases. We’ve done a really good job of getting runners in from third base, less than two outs, a lot of two-out RBIs over the past four games.”
Godwin doubles as ECU’s hitting coach.
“I’m in charge of the hitting,” Godwin said. “We can always get better but I definitely think we have been pretty effective offensively. We have power. We have some speed. If the other team is giving us something, we can normally expose their weakness so to speak.”
Williams-Sutton has picked up where he left off.
“Really, there wasn’t a lot that he could do to stay sharp,” Godwin said. “He would try to track some pitches every once and awhile with the pitching machine, go down to a bullpen every once and awhile. But really, we didn’t have any idea when he was coming back. Then when the doctor kind of gave us the clearance that he can kind of do as much as his pain allows then really it was kind of a week that he started hitting his way back in, swinging off the tee and doing front toss. He only took BP (batting practice) on the field for two days and then he played on the third day.”
Depth has increased
In his first season as ECU coach in 2015, Godwin faced some challenges in terms of depth.
“The first year was definitely different,” Godwin said. “We traveled 27 players and that’s all we had on the roster. We never had to post a travel roster. Now we have 35 so we post a travel roster and there’s guys getting left home when they’re good players. Different challenges. The first year you have to work with what you’ve got. Now there’s a lot of internal competition. They’re still great teammates, but guys are trying to get better and they’re pushing guys that are in front of them. When guys get hurt, a guy steps in and we really haven’t missed a beat as far as that goes.
“Nobody can replace Evan Kruczynski. His leadership in the dugout has been a tremendous help for these freshmen.”
The second season of Cliff’s Cab is well under way. Do a search on YouTube for Cliff’s Cab and enjoy Coach Godwin’s interaction with students as he promotes the program.
“We just finished up our fourth episode [this season] this past Monday,” Godwin said. “It was great. People love it. It’s good for our university. It’s good for our baseball program. A lot of people really like watching that.
“Basically, we go out on Mondays around 10:30 [a.m.] and it’s not every Monday. It’s kind of when we have some home games coming up. We pick up students. We ask them questions. We give them prizes. We try to encourage them to come out to baseball games. Really, it’s reality TV, which is what people really enjoy because a lot of things are very comical. [Brian] Meador shoots the video. He does a tremendous job with it. . . . Sometimes we’ll pick up a player. Sometimes the people that we pick up know players. It’s pretty neat.”
Competitive games with Huskies
ECU played UConn six times last season and went 5-1 but four of the games were decided by one run.
“If you go back and look, most of the games are one-run games,” Godwin said. “Coach [Jim] Penders does a great job with those guys. They always have been really good on the mound and they have good position players as well. The guy who will pitch on Friday night was Freshman Pitcher of the Year last year, Tim Cate. They have a guy named [William] Montgomerie that’s going on Saturday, who is one of the best pitchers in the conference. We’ll need to definitely have our best approach coming up this weekend offensively and, obviously, pitch well and play good defense for us to have a shot to win.”
There are some weather issues to deal with for the Huskies (13-9), especially early in the season.
“They have some indoor facilities that are nice,” Godwin said. “Normally, they play their best baseball when it warms up because it takes them a little time to get going. They always play well in conference, even if their preconference record is not very good. I coached at Notre Dame. Yes, you have your challenges. At the same time, it kind of gives the guys new life as the weather warms up. They feel good and it’s not freezing cold outside.”
UConn will host ECU for three games May 18-20, just before the league tournament in Clearwater, FL, May 25-28.
Wichita State potential AAC member
Reports have Wichita State as a potential non-football AAC member.
“They’ve definitely had some success in previous years [in baseball],” Godwin said. “I actually know the head coach, Todd Butler. He was an assistant at Arkansas when I was at Ole Miss. They have a storied baseball program. I don’t think they have had as much success as they would like recently.”
Coach Godwin encourages fan support because of its ability to help the Pirates.
“[Tuesday] night was a little bit difficult because there was a chance of rain and stuff,” Godwin said. “It was a decent crowd (2,634). It’s never as big as you would like it to be. I think people have a tough time in our sport, more so than any other sport realizing that it doesn’t matter what the name of the team is, they can beat you on any given day.
“Most of the time, the best football team is going to win. The guys who are the most talented are going to go out there and win. Not all of the time but most of the time. In baseball, if you don’t play good, it’s like the other team wins. It’s just as simple as I can put it. If the other team has a really good pitcher, they can beat you.
“Really, the home field advantage, like that game when we played St. John’s, I had to get thrown out I think to really wake the crowd up. That wasn’t my intention but that’s the best home field advantage that we’ve ever had here. You could take Carolina games, State games, whatever, but the crowd was in it every pitch. They were in the game every pitch. When fans are like that, it makes a huge home field advantage. The opposing team, they feel the energy and the pressure that the fans give. The more games that we could have like the St. John’s game this year, the better the Pirates will play, I promise.”
The myriad of polls that rank college baseball teams are not a factor that Godwin pays a great deal of attention.
“I don’t care about the national rankings,” Godwin said. “It’s been different for our kids this year. A lot more press and it’s in their face because of social media but I care about when the conference tournament is over that we put ourselves in a position to host a regional. That’s what I care about. I’m worried about winning games. I ain’t worried about what the media is saying and what fans are saying about where we’re ranked. That’s not my deal. . . .
“You’ve got to win games. That’s the simple of it. You’ve got to win games. You can’t let one game affect the next game whether it’s a win or a loss. You’ve got to treat every single game like a separate entity and treat every pitch like a separate entity and focus on the present moment. If you do that and do a good job of that, at the end of the day you will have put your best foot forward. Nobody knows what that will be but at the end of the day, you’ve put your best foot forward.”
Godwin has tweaked the rotation for UConn from last weekend with sophomore right-hander Chris Holba (3-0, 1.82 ERA) set to open the league campaign.
“We’re going with Holba, Benton and Agnos,” Godwin said. “When you start getting in league play and you’re in 1-0, 2-1, 3-1 counts a lot, no matter how good your stuff is, you’re not going to put yourself in the best situation. We feel like Holba gives us the best chance to win on Friday night.”