East Carolina opens play in the 2018 American Baseball Tournament at 9 a.m. Tuesday morning at Spectrum Field in Clearwater, FL.
The game was originally scheduled for a 3 p.m. start. The threat of bad weather moved the game by six hours for the earliest of starts for this ECU baseball team.
Monday was a day to soak up the praise. Four Pirates, led by American Athletic Conference player of the year Bryant Packard, made the all-conference first team.
Brady Lloyd at second base, Spencer Brickhouse at DH and Friday night ace Chris Holba all made the first team. Dwanya Williams-Sutton and Tyler Smith both made the second team. Williams-Sutton was a shoe-in for first team honors had he not been sidelined so much with injuries.
Alec Burleson was named as the league’s Rookie pitcher of the year.
Most importantly perhaps is that the Pirates took home the Team Academic Excellence Award for the third straight year. That’s a key stat, especially when your coach was a two-time Academic All-American. The Pirates had a cumulative 3.46 grade point average for the year.
With the four first-team selections, the Pirates have had at least one player named to a first-team for 15-straight years. That stat dates all the way back to 2004.
Since joining The American Athletic Conference in 2015, East Carolina has had 11 first-team all-conference members in Reid Love (2015), Luke Lowery (2015), Evan Kruczynski (2016), Dwanya Williams-Sutton (2016), Eric Tyler (2017), Travis Watkins (2017) and Charlie Yorgen (2017) to go along with this year’s selections.
Holba and Packard are the third and fourth-ever unanimous picks. The others were Love in 2015 and Yorgen in 2017.
Holba starts for the Pirates in the opener against Central Florida.
“I want to see a meaner Chris Holba this time out,” said ECU pitching Coach Dan Roszel, who spoke with me live from Clearwater for my weekly radio show on Pirate Radio 1250 and 930. [PLAY THE BRIAN BAILEY SHOW IN A NEW WINDOW.]
Holba has struggled somewhat since he missed his Friday start in the Houston series with an illness.
“I don’t think it was the sickness,” said Roszel. “Every pitcher goes through a little funk during the season at some point. He says he feels good, so we’ll go by feel Tuesday morning. I think he’ll be sharp.”
Win or lose the Pirates will go with lefty Alec Burleson in game two. That could be a rematch with Houston, the team that swept ECU in Greenville earlier this season.
A Pirate win on Tuesday morning gives ECU a break until Thursday afternoon. Two wins gives the Pirates two off days and a berth in the semifinals on Saturday.
The tournament is actually a pair of double elimination events that lead into a single, winner-take-all championship game on Sunday.
ECU and UCF are joined by Houston and Tulane on one side. The other bracket features South Florida, Wichita State, Cincinnati and Connecticut.
The Pirates start the week with an RPI of 13 in their quest to host an NCAA regional in Greenville.
They would go a long way toward being selected to host with a couple of wins leading into the American weekend in Clearwater.
Cliff Godwin’s Pirates won the American in his first year as head coach. The next season the Pirates went two and out, and then shocked the world in the NCAA regionals in Charlottesville. That team came closer than any in school history to getting to Omaha.
Last year Godwin’s club scratched and clawed from the 8th seed to make it to the championship game before falling to Houston.
Clearwater is a great place for a tournament. Baseball and the beach is a great combination for the players and the fans.
Here’s hoping the Pirates make it a week to remember. Make that a couple of weeks to remember this postseason.