East Carolina vaulted into the national rankings in February after taking two of three games from North Carolina in a multi-site series. The Pirates remained among the country’s elite during an exceptional season.
ECU (44-18) was knocked out of the NCAA Tournament in a regional at Clark-LeClair Stadium that included lengthy delays from Mother Nature after the top-seeded Pirates led off with a 16-7 win over fourth-seeded UNC-Wilmington on Friday night.
Coach Cliff Godwin doesn’t want the accomplishments in 2018 to be obscured by the stunning conclusion.
“We won 44 games,” Godwin said. “I think it was the seventh time in school history that an ECU baseball team had won 44 games. ECU has been playing baseball for a long time so that is a feat in itself.
“Winning the AAC Tournament championship was awesome just because of the way that the schedule changes. We would play one day and as soon as the game was over, they would tell us what time we would play the next day. We had no off days. We played five days in a row. To be able to maneuver through the tournament and win a championship showed a lot of toughness by our kids and our staff.
“Awesome to win the second conference tournament championship in four years. I’m just really happy for our kids and happy for ECU.”
The Pirates were seeded 12th overall in the NCAA Tournament.
“I did think that was fair,” Godwin said. “Us being one of the top 12 in the regular season was a great accomplishment and I definitely thought it was a fair assessment.”
The regional sold out quickly.
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“First off, I thought that Greenville and our baseball atmosphere was electric,” Godwin said. “I mean it was just awesome to see the buzz and the excitement. People were coming to campus that were teammates of mine in 1999 and 2000 and hadn’t been back to a baseball game since their last game. It was remarkable, the passion and excitement that the fans had.”
ECU got off to a good start before matters deteriorated with the onset of unfavorable playing conditions.
“Game one was the only one not affected by the weather so it was really good to win game one,” Godwin said. “Then, it’s baseball so you get affected by weather. It was delayed, drawn out. We were here all day Saturday and all day Sunday.
“Jake [Agnos] was out there dominating [in a 9-7 loss to UNCW on Sunday in an elimination game] and then we get a weather delay. We can’t bring a kid back after three hours of a delay. I would never put a kid at risk. Winning baseball games is not worth hurting one of our players who has a chance to play professional baseball down the road. It is what it is.
“I mean it was a nightmare of a fifth inning when we had the game in control. UNC-Wilmington did a great job. They could have rolled over and quit. They didn’t. They kept fighting and they scored nine runs. Our kids kept fighting, too.”
ECU saw a 5-0 lead dissolve against the Seahawks. The Pirates weren’t the only top seeds to exit before the Super Regional stage.
“Eight of the top 16 seeds that hosted did not move on and that just goes to show you the parity in college baseball,” Godwin said. “It’s unbelievable. You look at Tennessee Tech beating Ole Miss twice on the last day. Duke beat Georgia twice. It’s hard to win college baseball games.
“I know our fans are disappointed, but I can promise you that no one is more disappointed than myself, our coaching staff and our players. It’s just hard. I don’t know why things happen at times, but our kids should be looked at as champions because that’s what they are. They won 44 games. They won the American Athletic Conference Tournament championship. They had a 3.46 GPA (grade point average). They led the AAC in GPA. We do things the right way and still win. That’s the thing. I can lay my head down every night and feel comfort in.”
Home games in regional
Playing at home in the regional did not include all the advantages one might anticipate.
East Carolina, the top seed in its regional, was the home team once in three games in Greenville. UNCW, the No. 4 seed, was the home team three times in four games.
“The NCAA is giving everybody equal opportunity,” Godwin said. “It’s amazing and impressive at how level they try to make the playing field. It’s, in my opinion, sad. I don’t understand it. Everybody has to go through it. It’s not like a regional different from Coastal Carolina’s regional — the four seed being home more than the one seed. That seems a little bit wrong in my opinion.”
Have to agree with coach Godwin, no question. The lowest seed got the home cooking in Greenville.
Draft choices moving on, coach confident
Dwanya Williams-Sutton, Chris Holba and Connor Litton were taken in the Major League Baseball draft this week.
Williams-Sutton was a fifth-round selection by San Diego after hitting .331 with a team highs in on-base percentage (.477) and stolen bases (18) as a junior.
Holba went 9-1 with a 2.99 earned run average in 2018. Litton hit .285 with nine homers and 38 RBIs.
“They’re going to sign,” Godwin said. “We banked on them signing. We knew it was a very high likelihood that those guys would sign. We’ve prepared for it.
“We wish those guys the best. They’ve given everything they could to East Carolina. Now they’ll move on and play professional baseball.”
The cupboard is far from bare at ECU.
“We’re in good shape,” Godwin said. “We’ve recruited really well. We’ve got a great incoming class. People asked last year, ‘Who’s going to replace [Evan] Kruczynski? Who’s going to replace Eric Tyler? Who’s going to replace Charlie Yorgen?’ We had a guy to replace them. We’re in really good shape. . . . We’ll be ready to go next year.”
Tyler Smith returned from an absence for arm soreness to contribute two and one-third innings of scoreless relief in the last game of the season. He was 7-1 with a 1.78 ERA.
“He looked great,” Godwin said. “We’re really excited to get him back full healthy. He won’t pitch this summer. He’ll pitch in the fall and get ready to go for us in the spring.”
Many Pirates will be refining their skills during the summer.
“(Bryant) Packard (.406, 14 home runs, 50 RBIs), (Spencer) Brickhouse (.298, 10 homers, 50 RBIs, AAC Tournament MVP), Trey Benton, Agnos, Gavin Williams, those guys will go and summer ball in the Cape Cod League. Those guys will be up there.
“Jake Washer is not going to play summer ball. He’ll stay back here. Turner Brown is going to have surgery on his left shoulder that he needed to have after the season because his shoulder keeps getting dislocated.
“Alec Burleson will play in the Cal Ripken League. Most of our guys will be involved in summer league except Nick Barber, Turner Brown, Jake Washer, Tyler Smith and Matt Bridges.”
The Pirates had some of the success in 2018 that they were picked to have the year before when ECU did not receive an NCAA Tournament berth.
“First off, I don’t ever care where we get picked,” Godwin said. “I’m the one who has to evaluate our program every single day with our coaching staff, so I don’t ever care where we get picked.
“I always go back to the first year (2015) and the first team we had here. We were picked third in the conference. I was like, ‘Man, they must not have been to practice.’ We actually finished, I think, a half-game out of first place and overachieved. Won the conference tournament. No matter how many games we’ve won here, when we look back as a coaching staff, 15 years, 20 years from now, that will be our best coaching job.
“So it doesn’t matter where you’re picked.”
Godwin going to Cuba
Godwin reports for duty as third-base coach for the Collegiate National Team on June 24. The college stars will play teams from China and Japan in locales including Cary and Durham.
The team will play in Cuba in July.
“I have a passport,” Godwin said.