East Carolina’s baseball regular season was a resounding success, regardless of how you define success.
Coach Cliff Godwin and his young Pirates not only shooed away the ghosts of last year’s disappointment by winning 39 games against a brutally difficult schedule and spent most of the past two months ranked in or around the nation’s top 10, they also made a definitive statement that was heard loud and clear from one end of the state to the other.
If you don’t believe it, check out the Twitter responses from fans of Atlantic Coast Conference teams in the Triangle to the graphic ECU’s official athletic department account posted last week.
The meme pointed out that the Pirates compiled a 15-1 record, with an aggregate score of 108-42 against in-state competition in 2018. It was punctuated with the phrase “This is Arrrrgh State” — a not-so-subtle play on the “This is Our State” campaign used by a school ECU was scheduled to play this season, but didn’t because of the weather and other factors.
Was it a massive troll job?
But it was also a matter of fact.
Considering that baseball is the one sport in which the Pirates can recruit against the neighboring blue bloods on anything resembling an even playing field, there’s nothing wrong with pointing out their success in those head-to-head matchups.
And considering how little the athletic program and its fans have had to celebrate over the past couple of years, there’s also nothing wrong with taking a little pride over a badly needed positive accomplishment.
At the same time, though, ECU has worked too hard to compete and be taken seriously at the highest level of college sports to get too carried away over victories of such minor big picture significance.
That’s why the next few weeks are so important.
Because as satisfying as the regular season and all those wins against in-state rivals might be, all it did was put the Pirates into position for the kind of results that garner the attention of those beyond the borders of North Carolina.
There’s no greater way to earn respect than to win a championship for which a trophy and banner are awarded, the kind for which ECU has a legitimate shot at winning this week at the conference tournament in Clearwater, FL.
Although the Pirates dropped to the No. 4 seed after losing two of three at Connecticut last weekend — their first road American Athletic Conference series setback of the season — they have proven their ability to beat anyone in the league outside of regular season champ Houston. And the law of averages says their luck against the Cougars is bound to change at some point soon.
Their first game is schedule for Tuesday at 3 p.m. against fifth-seeded Central Florida, with the winner taking on either Houston or Tulane in the second round.
Winning the tournament, as it did in Godwin’s first season of 2015, would not only assure ECU of hosting an NCAA regional, it could also lead to a top eight national seed and a possible Super Regional at Clark-LeClair Stadium.
As long as they don’t go two and BBQ, the Pirates still figure to begin their NCAA tournament run at home no matter what happens in Clearwater.
But even if they do somehow get shuffled out of the mix and are forced to play their postseason games on the road, it’s no big deal.
In fact, it could turn into an advantage considering that ECU is a gaudy 19-4 away from Greenville this season. That advantage could grow even larger if the Pirates are seeded No. 2 in a regional hosted by an in-state ACC rival.
Going into Chapel Hill, Raleigh or Durham and winning a regional on the home field of a blue blooded neighbor would truly be an accomplishment worth celebrating.
And a much more meaningful troll job than some silly Internet meme.