Football, basketball and baseball are at various points in their respective years, but all three are thinking in terms of improvement.
As East Carolina embarks on spring practice in football, the Pirates look to erase the disappointment of three straight 3-9 seasons with new coach Mike Houston piloting the ship.
A 73-57 loss to Wichita State in the opening round of the American Athletic Conference on Thursday night in Memphis ended ECU’s basketball season with a 10-21 record, leaving plenty of room for improvement going forward.
Pirates baseball coach Cliff Godwin has said he wants his club to get “one percent better every day.”
In an immediate sense, the No. 24 Diamond Bucs will be seeking a performance upgrade after a 7-2 loss to Duke in Durham on Tuesday as a three-game series at Maryland gets underway tonight at 6:30 p.m.
Football on road to recovery
Rome wasn’t built in a day and the same applies for the south side renovation of Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. In a similar vein, Houston indicated on the eve of spring sessions that the hopes of Pirate Nation for a quick rebuild should be tempered by reality.
“There is a bright future ahead for East Carolina football,” Houston said Thursday. “Is it going to be an easy road? Absolutely not. There are going to be tough times. There is no doubt.
“But you have a group that is committed to making sure we get the task done, that we accomplish the goals that we set out. Some of those we have already accomplished. But there is still a lot of work to do. Now is it going to translate overnight to exactly what we want? No. It is going to take time.”
The Purple-Gold game on Saturday, April 13, will offer a chance to check out the progress of the Pirates, who open the 2019 season at N.C. State on Aug. 31.
Hoops will feature new faces
The 2018-19 hoops season ended Thursday night. Pirates coach Joe Dooley and staff will make a quick transition to the recruiting trail.
“Recruiting, recruiting, recruiting,” Dooley said of immediate priorities. “We’ve got a lot of things we’ve got to improve on. We need to go out and get some more bodies and some bigger bodies. That will be the biggest thing. Our whole staff will be out starting (Friday).”
Dooley said the ECU staff will be checking in on high school tournaments, junior college tournaments and making home visits to see prospects.
The Pirates have signed three players and another is committed, but the incoming class won’t stop there.
“We need to finish up getting some more frontline help,” Dooley said. “I’d like to bring in a minimum of three more in the frontcourt. We’d probably like to get two or three other players, which would put us at eight or nine (new players). … We need to get bigger and more athletic. … We obviously have to get some shooting in here.”
ECU was outrebounded 44-32 by the Shockers in the season finale, making just four of 17 (23.5 percent) from 3-point land.
Dooley said a big basketball recruiting weekend is coming up in two weeks.
Pirates practice — for a change
Sophomore left-hander Jake Agnos will start for ECU tonight. The Pirates (12-6) had a rare practice on Thursday in College Park.
“You practice when you’re not playing,” ECU coach Cliff Godwin said. “You just continue working on the little things that help your team get better, whether it be defense, offense, short game, baserunning.
“We really have not practiced. It’s almost been 10 to 14 days. We’ve played so much recently and traveling on spring break. So we haven’t had the opportunity to practice much and then with the NCAA mandating a day off each week. (Thursday) will be one of the first practices, when we get to Maryland, that we’ve had in a long time.
“We talk about each game after the game is over. We go through and break down what we did well, what we need to improve on. There are classroom settings as far as breaking out each game of what we need to do a better job of, what we did well so we can continue to improve even though we might not necessarily be able to practice.”
Godwin reviewed factors that produced the loss to Duke.
“Can’t give up five runs in the first inning and expect to beat a good team,” said the ECU coach. ” … The first inning we smoked three balls that just happened to be right at people. Really, the balls they hit hard the first inning found holes and the balls we hit did not. When you have a young pitcher on the mound, which was their guy (Cooper Stinson), a freshman, it makes him feel like he’s settled in once he’s given up hard contact and there’s nobody on base. I think (Spencer) Brickhouse walked that inning so he saw four batters. But (Bryant) Packard lined out, Turner (Brown) lined out and (Alec) Burleson lined out.
“He faced four batters. Three guys smoked the ball right at people and then we give up five runs so it allowed him to be in a much more comfortable state. We hit balls hard in the first four innings. … It was really tough to see for both offenses once the fourth or fifth inning came around because of the shadows in the stadium (Durham Bulls Athletic Park). So you don’t need to be down 5-1 or 5-2 when the shadows set in because they have good pitching.
“Their relief pitching is probably their strength. The two righties (Hunter Davis, Thomas Girard), they’re their best relievers so they threw their best guys against us, which I would too. They’re trying to win the game.
“It was a combination of things. We swung the bats well early and then they brought in their best guys when we were down 5-2 and it was just tough to score.”
The games at Maryland will be the final weekend series before the American Athletic Conference schedule begins with Central Florida coming to Greenville, March 22-24.
“I just want to see our guys play hard and compete,” Godwin said. “That’s all I ever want to see. If we do that, we’ll win a whole lot more than we’ll lose.”