Cliff Godwin is, if nothing else, a man of his word.
Last Sunday, after watching his team get swept at home by American Athletic Conference rival Houston in what he said was “as uninspired a game” as he’s ever been associated with at East Carolina, the coach vowed that his Pirates would “play inspired baseball in New Orleans” in its next weekend series at Tulane.
Did they ever.
ECU scored a run in the opening inning of the opening game and never trailed in completing a sweep of its own that thrust it right back into contention for a number of important goals.
With the wins, the Pirates didn’t just improve their road record to an incredible 17-2 while moving back into a virtual tie for the league lead and strengthening their case to host an NCAA regional. They also showed a grit and resilience that will serve them well no matter where they end up playing their postseason games.
The most outward sign of those two important qualities came late in that Friday night series opener.
On a night in which ace Chris Holba lasted just over three innings, with a pivotal game hanging in the balance, ECU broke a tie — and avoided extending its longest losing streak of the season — by scoring twice in the eighth and twice more in the ninth to pull away for a 9-5 win.
It was the kind of game that could help a team regain some of its shaken confidence.
That’s not to say that Godwin and his players were knocked back by those three disappointing losses to Houston. At least, not to the extent that their fan base might have been. Either way, the Pirates clearly got their mojo back after the hard-fought road victory.
They got outstanding pitching performances from freshman right-hander Alec Burleson and sophomore Tyler Smith to go along with an offense that put up double-digit hit totals both Saturday and Sunday to become the first AAC team to sweep the Green Wave in a three-game series since they joined the conference in 2014.
One of the most encouraging aspects of ECU’s bounceback weekend in the Big Easy was the bat of junior right fielder Dwanya Williams-Sutton. A freshman All-American in 2016, Williams-Sutton hasn’t been completely healthy since injuring his wrist sliding into second at Campbell in the second week of last season. His two-homer game in Saturday’s 8-3 win provided promise that he might finally be rounding back into form.
A healthy Williams-Sutton in the middle of the lineup, with his ability to hit for power while also making things happen on the bases with his speed, would give ECU yet another productive weapon to go along with the red hot bat of leadoff man Bryant Packard, whose hitting streak has reached 23 games, and a resurgent Spencer Brickhouse, who has gotten on base in 15 straight and has three of his seven homers in the last six games.
As encouraging as this weekend’s sweep is, though, it’s hardly time to celebrate.
ECU begins a difficult home stretch to the regular season with a pair of weekday tests against Norfolk State and always tough UNC-Wilmington, followed by a home AAC series against Cincinnati. It will then finish out the schedule on the road with three games at Connecticut, another of the four teams tied in the loss column atop the league standings.
After that it’s on to Clearwater, FL, for the conference tournament.
The great thing about baseball is that unlike football — and to a lesser extent, basketball — there are enough games on the schedule so that one or two bad stretches won’t adversely impact the outcome of an entire season. And as they say, momentum only lasts as long as the next game’s starting pitcher.
If the past two weekends prove anything, it’s that a team’s fortunes can shift dramatically, both positively and negatively, in the blink of an eye. That and when the Pirates play the kind of “inspired baseball” their coach demands, they’re a tough team to beat no matter who or where they play.
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