Cliff Godwin begins his fifth season as East Carolina baseball coach when the Pirates host Radford for a doubleheader today at 2 p.m.
The schedule for the opening series was modified Thursday due to potential unfavorable weather. The start for the third game with the Highlanders is supposed to be announced during the second game today.
ECU begins 2019 nationally ranked and as the preseason favorite in the American Athletic Conference. Junior outfielder Bryant Packard is projected for numerous All America teams.
The situation is similar to 2017 when the Pirate were rated as high as No. 6 going into a season-opening series at Ole Miss. Injuries left ECU short of expectations that year.
There is more depth now. Godwin is older and wiser, too.
“If you haven’t changed any, then you probably haven’t gotten better,” Godwin said. “I definitely think I’ve changed. I think I have better relationships with the players than I probably did early on, and just invest more time with them individually and let them know that I love and care for them.
“I do coach them hard, but at the same time I want to make sure that they’re taken care of.”
The Pirates drew record crowds at Ole Miss in 2017 but dropped three competitive games with the Rebels. Playing Radford at home doesn’t appear to be a challenge of the same magnitude although Godwin expressed respect for this weekend’s foe.
“They’ll be a quality opponent,” Godwin said. “They have a great, competitive head coach (Joe Raccula). I’m sure they’ll be ready to go.”
The Pirates play a single game at Ole Miss on March 6 That follows a contest at Mississippi State on March 5.
League play starts at home against Central Florida on March 22.
“The schedules are made years in advance,” Godwin said. “It’s kind of similar to football to be quite honest with you. When you put them together, some teams that have historically done really well and then some that maybe haven’t, all that good stuff. Really, you don’t know how great your schedule is or how not great it is until you get done with the season, but we try to put our schedule together every year to put us in a situation to have a great RPI and win enough games to be in a position to host a regional and a super regional.”
The Pirates announced earlier this week that left-hander Alec Burleson would start the season opener. Lefty Jake Agnos will go in game two and Tyler Smith was named to start game three.
Godwin talked about the process of determining the initial weekend rotation.
“It’s really been very competitive,” Godwin said. “We have a great pitching staff this year. … Any one of those three guys could pitch on Friday nights. We sat down as a staff together and came up with this rotation. This is the rotation for this weekend. This isn’t necessarily the rotation for next weekend. It will continue to be a work in progress. Like I told our guys, last year Burleson and Tyler Smith started out in the bullpen and they ended up being weekend starters. Each day, it has to be earned and our guys know that.”
Godwin sized up the bullpen at the outset of 2019.
“Everybody who’s not starting,” Godwin said. “The bullpen is going to be the guys who are not pitching this weekend, other than Gavin Williams. Gavin Williams will start next week (Wednesday, Feb. 20, 5 p.m., Buies Creek, weather permitting) against Campbell. … We have some guys who can pitch in the back end of the bullpen. Right now, Trey Benton, Evan Voliva, Sam Lanier, Zach Barnes, Carter Spivey, Cam Colmore, any of those guys could finish out a game.”
Packard hit .406 last season with 14 home runs and 50 RBIs for a team that was 44-18. The Pirates won the AAC Tournament and hosted a rainy NCAA Tournament regional.
This year’s batting order has impressive potential.
“It’s going to be, I think, pretty dynamic,” Godwin said. “We’re going to have guys who can run. We’re going to have guys who have power. As far as where everybody is hitting in the order, we’re still working on that. … We’ll see, depending on who they’re pitching will determine guys in different spots. But we’re really excited. We have a ton of depth, position player-wise this year. You’ll see a lot of different lineups and a lot of guys playing every game.”
There are multiple personnel options at every position,
“Behind the plate, Jake Washer is returning but Seth Caddell has been great in the preseason, so Wash and Seth will both catch at times,” Godwin said. “At third base, Nick Barber and Thomas Francisco will both play. At shortstop, Turner Brown will be our starting shortstop. Ryder Giles will play a lot. He will play at either third, short or second. At second base, we have Brady Lloyd returning. Also, Connor Norby, a freshman, has swung the bat extremely well. He can play second or maybe third at times.
“Ryder and Connor both pitch. Ryder is probably a little bit in front of him, pitching-wise right now. At first base, you have (Spencer) Brickhouse, Burleson and then Collin Watt has been working over at first base as well. In the outfield, you have Packard, Bryson Worrell, Dusty Baker, Chandler Jenkins, Christian Smallwood, Lane Hoover, Christian Jayne out there. Any of those guys at any point in time could be out there. That is a unique situation. I told our team this is the first year I feel like anybody could play at any given time because we have a lot of depth.”
Continued improvement will be a primary objective for the Pirates.
“The keys for our team — and I said it at the banquet and I’ll continue to say it, has nothing to do with wins and losses,” Godwin said. “We need to dominate our daily schedules. We need to focus on the process of getting one percent better. We need to make our boat, which is our organization, go faster and go in the right direction. If we get off from a direction standpoint, to get guys to get us back on direction. We need to be elite in everything we do. We need to love one another and be selfless.
“That is a real key because we have depth. If guys execute their roles and don’t let selfish ideas come into their head — just be the best version of themselves.”
The banquet last Saturday evening was a record setter.
“It was awesome,” Godwin said. “We had the most people ever. We had 592 people attend. We raised a lot of money. We raised close to $62,000 for our program on Saturday night, which is almost double of the most that we’ve ever raised. It was at the new Student Center ball room, the grand ball room on the second floor.”
Speaking of money, the Pirates are planning facility upgrades.
“It’s renovation,” Godwin said. “Eventually, it probably will cost close to $4 million. It will be in phases, like anything like that. Phase One will be our pitching indoor, which is our old hitting indoor, to renovate that. Phase Two is for us to get a renovated locker room, a renovated equipment room, training room, team room, a weight room and a professional locker room.”
Cliff’s cab delayed
The Cliff’s Cab video series was delayed from its scheduled start Monday. Godwin pilots a multi-seat golf cart on the show that takes students to class while the coach publicizes the baseball program.
“Actually, we didn’t because of the weather, so it will go out (Wednesday),” Godwin said Tuesday.
A trip to UCLA on April 12-13 is among the more intriguing aspects of the 2019 schedule. Godwin was asked if the Pirates will do some sight seeing in Los Angeles.
“Just the way our travel schedule is, it might be tough for us to do a lot, but we always try to give our guys an opportunity to see something that maybe they never have seen before,” Godwin said. “A lot of our guys haven’t been out to LA, so it will be a good opportunity for them to get out there and see some things.”
The Pirates have never been to the College World Series either, but that deeply-respected destination would appear to be a possibility for the season at hand.