Officially, East Carolina was the visiting team for last Tuesday’s top 11 showdown against Duke. But you never would have known it by the atmosphere at Durham’s Jack Coombs Field.
Among the announced crowd of 1,015, a majority of those in attendance were wearing purple or gold and pulling for the Pirates.
While that may or may not have played a role in ECU’s impressive 9-2 victory against the third-ranked Blue Devils, the moral support from the stands certainly didn’t hurt. And it could be even more important this week when coach Cliff Godwin takes his 11th-ranked squad back to the Triangle for another high-profile Tuesday night clash with No. 4 N.C. State.
The percentage of Pirates fans at the Wolfpack’s sold out Dail Park won’t be as great as it was the previous week at Duke. At the same time, though, there will be enough of them there to make the environment significantly less hostile than might otherwise be expected.
It isn’t often that a team can bring one of the nation’s best home field advantages with it when it goes on the road.
But that’s one of the many reasons why this year’s Pirates are so dangerous no matter where they play.
“It doesn’t matter if we are in Seattle or here in Durham or the Durham Bulls stadium, Pirate Nation has the best fans,” sophomore pitcher Jake Agnos said after pitching five strong innings in last Tuesday’s win. “They were awesome and it definitely affects the game. I was talking to some guys in the dugout and when their catcher called timeout in his home stadium and they were booing him. That’s awesome.”
As much as the support has helped on the road, it’s been an even bigger factor at home.
A prime example of that came back on Feb. 23, when a crowd of 5,382 — the third biggest in ECU history — crammed into Clark-LeClair Stadium for yet another game against in-state ACC rival North Carolina.
ECU beat the Tar Heels 2-1 behind a dominant 11-strikeout performance by sophomore right-hander Trey Benton, who said afterward that the raucous support of his home fans played a key role in carrying him to his career-best effort.
“When you’ve got a crowd like this behind you, it’s hard not to get emotional out there,” Benton said. “Every strikeout, I’d try to get the crowd a bit more into it. That’s kind of how I like to pitch.”
It’s the kind of atmosphere every player can appreciate, including those still grappling with their decision on where to play their college ball. After all, it’s a lot more fun playing in front of a big, energetic crowd than it is with just a couple of dozen family members and friends sitting quietly in the stands.
There’s no doubt that the passion Pirate Nation has for its baseball team has had a hand in helping Godwin attract nationally ranked recruiting classes over the past two years, the bulk of whom are responsible for this season’s success.
This year’s average attendance for ECU’s 22 home dates is just under 3,000 per game. That number is almost certain to rise as the team continues to win and the weather finally decides to start getting warmer on a consistent basis.
The higher that number gets, the better it is for the Pirates and not just because of the motivating effect is has on players such as Benton, ace Chris Holba, hot-hitting Bryant Packard and the rest of the team.
Assuming that ECU builds on its current 30-9 record, finishes the regular season strong and maintains its top 10 standing in the RPI computer rankings, there’s a good chance members of the NCAA tournament committee will also be inspired enough to select Clark-LeClair as a postseason regional host.
That would certainly increase the Pirates’ chances of advancing to a Super Regional, where they could also end up having a decided home field advantage — no matter where the games happen to be played.
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