It was only about four weeks ago that East Carolina baseball coach Cliff Godwin exhorted Pirates fans to keep the faith and not panic over his team’s disappointing 8-5 start.
For those who heeded the advice, that faith has been rewarded.
With this weekend’s impressive sweep at South Florida, Godwin’s veteran squad has now reeled off nine straight wins and 13 in their last 14 games while opening up the American Athletic Conference schedule with a perfect 6-0 mark.
Now that it has fully recovered from that uneasy start, ECU is looking every bit the part of the AAC favorite and national contender it was predicted to be.
So what’s been the difference?
Two things, in particular.
First is the return to health of stars Bryant Packard and Spencer Brickhouse.
Packard, the reigning AAC Player of the Year and a preseason candidate for national honors this season, hurt his wrist in an opening day victory against Radford and missed the next four games.
Around that same time, leading power hitter Brickhouse missed five games after “tweaking” something in his back.
And while dual-threat Alec Burleson only sat out two games with a hamstring issue, his effectiveness was affected both on the mound and at the plate.
Now that all three are healthy again, they have once again become the heart of a batting order that is among the most potent in college baseball.
Between them, they banged out 15 hits and drove home 13 runs in the three games in Tampa this weekend. Eight of those RBIs came on two swings of Packard’s rapidly warming bat in the form of two grand slams.
While the Big Three have done much of the heavy lifting during the Pirates’ recent hot streak, they’re also getting plenty of help.
Senior shortstop Turner Brown, a career .268 hitter, is batting a hefty .330 while leading the team with six stolen bases. Freshman center fielder Lane Hoover is hitting .333 from the No. 2 spot in the order and classmate Thomas Francisco has hit four home runs in only 14 games.
Even catcher Jake Washer, one of the few still struggling at the plate, began to show signs of life at USF by homering in Friday’s 4-0 win.
“Early on, you’re trying to fit the pieces together, it just didn’t seem to flow,” Godwin told D1Baseball.com last week. “Packard missed time, Brickhouse missed time, Burleson missed time. It was tough to get an offensive flow going.”
But that has now changed.
“The leadership has just come to the top,” Godwin continued, “and guys have taken a lot of ownership of us continuing to become better teammates.”
As improved as the offense has been in recent weeks, the other half of the Pirates’ successful equation has come on the mound.
Although there are still some kinks to work out of the starting rotation outside of Friday starter Jake Agnos and Sunday’s Jake Kuchmaner — who are a combined 7-1 while allowing only 22 earned runs in 80 innings pitched — the big story has been the work of the bullpen.
Five different pitchers have recorded saves thus far, including hard-throwing sophomore Gavin Williams, who may have found a home out of the pen after beginning the year as a starter. He was virtually unhittable Sunday while striking out eight in 3⅔ shutout innings to finish off a 5-1 win.
Freshman Ryder Giles has yet to give up a run in eight career appearances. Seniors Evan Voliva and Sam Lanier have given up just one run each in their last five games. Cam Colmore has given up one run in his last four.
Between them, ECU pitchers have allowed an average of just 3.07 runs per game during the current 14-game hot streak.
That’s a standard that, if maintained, will certainly bolster the Pirates’ hopes of hosting an NCAA Regional and Super Regional. Regardless of where those postseason games are played, it’s the kind of pitching depth that — along with a little faith — can carry a team a long way.
Maybe even all the way to Omaha.