There’s no one on the East Carolina baseball roster named Murphy. Given the way this season has gone so far, there probably should be.
To say that everything that can go wrong has gone wrong for the Pirates, might be overstating things a little.
But not by much.
The seemingly endless series of unfortunate events began on the opening weekend, when despite leading at some point in all three games, ECU got swept at Ole Miss by a grand total of four runs.
Then, even as the Pirates finally broke into the win column with a midweek game at Campbell, the fickle finger of fate touched them again when All-American outfielder Dwanya Williams-Sutton suffered a thumb injury sliding into second on a leadoff double.
It’s a problem that has limited Williams-Sutton to just 10 games and 36 at bats all season.
Although coach Cliff Godwin’s team was able to run off wins in 13 of their next 14 nonconference games following that forgettable first series in Mississippi, the ominous signs continued when its other preseason All-American, ace pitcher Evan Kruczynski, took a line drive off his ankle on March 3 against Western Carolina and was sidelined for a month.
Kruczynski’s replacement as the Pirates’ Friday night starter, Chris Holba, was also lost when he was struck in the face by a batted ball against Houston.
All those holes in both the batting order and starting rotation have helped to play a major role in an unfathomable 0-9 start to the American Athletic Conference schedule punctuated by a three-game home sweep at the hands of Central Florida this weekend.
As incredible as it seems for a team that started the season ranked among the nation’s top 10 with seemingly realistic aspirations of winning a conference title, hosting a regional and with a break or two, making a magical trip to the College World Series in Omaha, it’s now going to take an incredible finish — and perhaps an AAC tournament title — for the Pirates just to make it into the postseason.
It’s a reality that left Godwin unabashedly emotional after Saturday’s 7-0 beatdown by the Knights, a loss he, his shellshocked players and their fans can only hope is rock bottom.
“They’re upset and they don’t understand why,” Godwin said. “We do things the right way. I know there are a lot of people out there in the public, they don’t know. They don’t know what we do. It’s hard on [the players]. They don’t understand. We always talk about leaving a legacy and they’re worried about, ‘Is our legacy going to be tarnished now?’ So, it’s tough.”
As frustrating as the situation might be, it’s not to the point of hopelessness yet.
There are still 19 regular season games and five AAC series’ left before the conference tournament in on May 23-28. At 19-18 overall, there are enough opportunities to salvage a respectable record and perhaps avoid a do-or-die scenario in Clearwater next month.
If you’re looking for something, anything, to suggest that the Pirates’ miserable luck might finally be ready to take a turn for the better, look no further than the most recent loss. As forgettable as it might have, Kruczynski provided a ray of hope by pitching five crisp innings in his return to the mound.
The senior left-hander, who passed up the Major League draft last season because he thought his team was on the verge of something special, gave up just one run on three hits with two strikeouts and no walks while throwing 65 pitches. His performance provided ECU with a badly needed jolt of excitement and hope until Murphy’s Law kicked back into high gear and the bullpen let things get out of hand.
“Today was the first day where I felt like we felt sorry for ourselves,” Godwin said afterward. “If you do that, it’s going to be a long rest of the year. I’ll continue to say this, but this is really hard on these guys. . . . The kids are trying. It’s just not happening for them right now.”
Their next chance to make it happen will be Tuesday at UNC-Wilmington. Then comes a trip to Cincinnati and another chance to get off the schneid in the AAC.
The question at this point is whether the Pirates will raise the “No Quarter” flag and fight all the way to the end or simply resign themselves to their current fate and go quietly into the good night.
If Kruczynski can return to form as a Friday night force, if Williams-Sutton’s thumb allows him to get back into the lineup and if Holba can overcome both his injury and the trauma it caused to contribute again, there’s enough talent on the roster to justify those lofty preseason rankings.
Unless, of course, it really is one of those seasons in which everything that can go wrong does go wrong..
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