There’s no way to sugarcoat it. Last week was almost a forgettable one for the East Carolina athletic program.
It started with an unpopular cancellation of Tuesday’s much-anticipated baseball showdown at N.C. State and went downhill from there. From ace pitcher Chris Holba’s untimely illness to the three close losses to Houston that followed; from the softball team’s Senior Day setback at the hands of Wichita State to reports of lagging football season ticket sales and the realization that no Pirate would be selected in the NFL draft, things just seemed to go from bad to worse no matter where you turned.
That’s a shame, too, since the week that wasn’t came at a time in which it seemed as though ECU’s fortunes were finally starting to gain a little positive momentum.
Rather than dwell on all that went wrong, it’s better to chalk up the disappointing past few days as a momentary hiccup and try to make the best of the situation by looking for as many silver linings as possible amongst the dark clouds that have suddenly rolled into Greenville.
In the midst of the cascade of disappointing outcomes, there were a couple of bright rays of sunshine on the basketball front, but we’ll touch on that later in this column.
Positive news on the baseball diamond starts with the fact that the Pirates won’t have to see Houston again for awhile.
For some inexplicable reason, the Cougars have been ECU’s Kryptonite over the past two seasons, winning the last eight meetings between the American Athletic Conference rivals. It didn’t help things this time around that the unbeaten Holba wasn’t available to get the series off to a solid start. Or salvage a winning finale.
That weekend pitching disruption notwithstanding, Godwin was critical of his team’s effort in the Houston series, calling Sunday’s 6-5 loss “as uninspired a baseball game as I’ve ever been associated with here at East Carolina.” He promised that ECU would “play inspired baseball in New Orleans” in its next weekend series at Tulane.
The good news is that Holba figures to be back on the mound and with sophomore slugger Spencer Brickhouse’s bat starting to heat back up — with homers in each of the past two games — the opportunity for a quick bounceback is there for the taking.
With no midweek games on the schedule to serve as a distraction, Godwin and his players will also have ample time to take a step back and regroup.
That’s a similar approach to the one Davon Grayson and several of his senior football teammates were forced to take after a weekend in which their NFL hopes suffered a major setback.
Grayson was the only one in the group that figured to have a realistic shot at getting drafted after being invited to the NFL’s pre-draft scouting combine — where he posted a respectable 4.51 40-yard dash time, bench pressed 19 reps and showed off a 34.5-inch vertical leap.
But whether it was his history of injuries or ECU’s lack of success in posting a second consecutive 3-9 season, he was passed over by all 32 teams.
That doesn’t mean his chances of getting into the league are over. He’s just going to have to work a little harder after signing an undrafted free agent deal to go to training camp with the New York Giants.
He isn’t the only Pirate hoping to take the indirect route to a professional career.
Tight end Stephen Baggett will join Grayson in New York with the Giants and wide receiver Jimmy Williams signed with the Denver Broncos, while offensive tackle Brandon Smith will try out with the Baltimore Ravens, defensive end Kiante Anderson with the Houston Texans and graduate transfer defensive end Gaelin Elmore with the Cincinnati Bengals.
Although the odds are long against each of them ever playing a regular season game in the NFL, they at least have the same chance at proving themselves on the field as those that were drafted in the later rounds.
While it will be another seven months before ECU’s basketball team will begin proving itself on its own field of competition, new coach Joe Dooley still provided the best news of the week with reports that he’s hired former UConn associate head coach Raphael Chillious as his lead assistant with the Pirates.
Chillious is one of the most respected recruiters in the country, who has also served tenures at Washington and Villanova as a member of Jay Wright’s staff. Although he hasn’t officially been named yet, the Pirates’ recruiting fortunes have already taken a turn for the better with the announcement that three-star guard DeShaun Wade has recommitted to ECU.
Wade’s decision to stick with the Pirates was a badly needed bright spot in an otherwise dark week, providing hope that — like North Carolina’s unpredictable weather this time of year — a dramatic turnaround might be just around the corner.
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