Connor Litton and Drew Henrickson both arrived in Pirate Country by way of junior colleges, using top two-year programs to boost their game and prepare themselves to compete in Division I. Both have become key contributors, on both offense and defense, to No. 7 East Carolina’s 30-9 season.
But despite these common threads, there are distinct differences in the paths traveled by the two transfers.
Henrickson was a Pirate fan from birth, encouraged to follow the purple and gold by his father Sam, a member of the ECU baseball team in 1983. Some of his earliest memories recall trips from his hometown of Fayetteville to Greenville for football or baseball games. He has long had a singular goal to be a Pirate, and the fulfillment of that dream took him through Pitt Community College.
Growing up in Pennsylvania, Litton had heard very little about East Carolina, and as an undersized prospect out of high school his American Legion coach helped get him on the roster at Cowley Community College in Arkansas City, Kansas.
When ECU assistant coach Jeff Palumbo reached out with the possibility that he could be a Pirate, Litton visited and found a program that was much closer to home than Kansas with players and coaches who shared his desire to win.
Henrickson was fixed on becoming a Pirate, but he had to wait until near the end of his sophomore year at PCC, under ECU hall of famer and former Pirate assistant coach Tommy Eason, to learn that he had been offered a spot on the ECU team. A senior outfielder, Henrickson started 16 games during his junior season and all but 10 outings so far this year, emerging as a reliable defender and hitter with 30 hits and 17 runs so far.
“Tommy Eason down the road gave me a chance, and that was the best decision I ever made, and luckily (head) Coach (Cliff) Godwin gave me a chance too,” he said. “It’s been a dream come true.”
“What a great asset he’s been to our program,” said Godwin. “From day one he’s always shown up and practiced and played hard and played the game the right way. He’s one of the best defensive outfielders that I’ve ever coached, and he can play right field, centerfield and left field. Last year he really gave us a spark at the end of the year and this year he has really taken off.”
Despite an arm injury in the fall that he feared could hinder his transition to ECU, Litton recovered and earned the starting spot at third base. He has been a force in the infield and also at the plate, batting .293 with seven home runs. In the months since he arrived, Godwin has seen Litton’s comfort level with the staff and players increase, and his humor in the dugout provides stress relief for his teammates when games get tense. He also views the game — and his role in it — differently now.
“I had always been a big results guy, so if I had a bad at-bat I would just think about that, and I never really had any mental training like we have here,” Litton said. “That’s really helped me out. So I don’t think about at-bats or swings, when I’m taking BP I’m watching my feet and making sure everything feels good instead of watching where the ball goes.”
Similarly for Henrickson, a key part of the maturation process through his college career has been a shift from worrying about his own performance to focusing on the outcome of the team as a whole.
“I just had to learn how to enjoy success for my teammates, and just to be selfless and worry about winning,” Henrickson said.
Litton and Henrickson agree on the key factor that has made this team successful — extraordinary chemistry and unity. It might sound like cliche to characterize an athletic team as a family, but in this case the analogy is completely accurate, they say.
“It’s not like it’s a bunch of athletes put together, it’s honestly like a bunch of brothers,” Litton said. “There’s not one person on this team, that if I sat beside, I wouldn’t be able to talk to.”
The Pirates will face Houston in a crucial home series this weekend, with games at 6:30 p.m. Friday, 4 p.m. Saturday and 11:30 a.m. on Sunday. The starting pitchers are, in order, Chris Holba, Alec Burleson and Tyler Smith.