East Carolina seemed very much in control on Sunday night, leading rival UNC-Wilmington 5-0 heading to the bottom of the fifth inning.
The Pirates had come back from a five-hour, nine-minute rain delay and scored a pair of runs to take that 5-0 lead into the frame.
That fifth inning rocked ECU to the tune of an earlier than expected exit from the NCAA Greenville Regional as the Seahawks tallied nine runs.
The Pirates would plate a pair later and sent the tying run to the plate in the ninth. But that fifth inning was just too much to overcome, and ECU was ousted from the regional by a 9-7 score.
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South Carolina would come back on Monday and take care of the Seahawks to win the regional and advance to play in the NCAA Super Regionals at Arkansas.
An emotional Cliff Godwin credited his seniors for their outstanding leadership in wrapping up the season.
“For our seniors Andrew Hendrickson, West Covington, Davis Kirkpatrick and Ryan Ross; we wouldn’t be where we are today without those guys. A group that wasn’t picked preseason to do anything and won 44 games, won an American Athletic Conference championship, had a 3.51 GPA in the fall, a 3.43 GPA in the spring and led the American Athletic Conference [with the highest] GPA for the third straight year.”
Godwin couldn’t hide his disappointment. The two-time Pirate Academic All-American wants nothing more than to make it to Omaha, to retire his former coach’s number (Keith LeClair) and to move this program where it belongs.
“I’m proud to be the head coach at East Carolina University because of the kids we have in our program,” said Godwin. “A lot of people put a lot of hard work and effort into this program every single day and it is tough. It’s a tough pill to swallow. I want our guys to be remembered as champions because that’s what they were at the end of the day.”
I was setting up my live shot when the Pirate players were breaking up from their team meeting after the loss. Several had swollen eyes as the emotions overflowed.
“I’ll just miss every part about it,” ECU senior Andrew Henrickson told me as he walked by. “I’ll miss it all.”
Henrickson moved into the cleanup role at one point during the weekend. His catch in deep centerfield against South Carolina made the SportsCenter Top 10 plays late that night.
Jake Agnos had tears flowing as he hugged his father. Agnos will be back, but he knows this band of brothers had played their final game together.
Turner Brown will also return at shortstop.
“It’s tough,” said Brown. “The seniors gave us all they had. I can’t say enough about the way they showed us how to work and the way to go about our business.”
Ryan Ross was one of those seniors. It seems like yesterday that I was emceeing the Pirates’ preseason banquet. Ross sat at my table. He was nervous, as each senior had to speak.
“They didn’t tell me that I had to speak in front of this many people when they recruited me,” Ross said with a smile.
He delivered his talk much like he did his pitches for most of the year. He came from the heart, and was most effective.
I’ll certainly miss this team.
The closer you get to a squad the more you learn about their individual personalities and you enjoy the baseball that much more.
The Pirates certainly have nothing to hang their heads about. The squad led the American in GPA for the third straight year. The team won 44 games. They won five games in five days on their way to the American Athletic Conference title in Clearwater.
It was a championship season both on and off the field.