The disappointment of Saturday’s 10-9 loss to Memphis was soothed by a postgame ceremony in which the East Carolina baseball team was awarded its trophy for winning the American Athletic Conference’s regular season championship.
As the hardware was passed around from player to player, a list of the Pirates achievements was announced to the crowd at Clark-LeClair Stadium.
- Twenty AAC wins, the most in conference history;
- Eight consecutive conference series wins, also an AAC record;
- First team in conference history to go through a season without losing a series;
- No. 3 national RPI rating;
- Single-season AAC and ECU record of 124 strikeouts by junior Jake Agnos.
With a 42-13 overall record heading into this week’s conference tournament in Clearwater, FL,, the Pirates’ 2019 campaign undoubtedly ranks as one of the best regular seasons in school history.
As impressive as that accomplishment might be, it’s only a successful first step in a journey coach Cliff Godwin and his players have been on since the first time they stepped onto the diamond back in February.
Whether or not this becomes the best season ever at ECU will be determined from here on out by the Pirates’ performance over the next few weeks.
“I’m very happy for our kids. I’m happy for the fans and happy to be part of such a great group,” said Godwin, who added that he won’t reflect on all his team has accomplished until the final game is played. Whenever that may be.
“The kids have been great from Day 1. But it’s just tough. We haven’t met all of our goals. We’ve met a few of our goals and that’s great, but we haven’t met all of our goals.”
Another of those goals can be met this week in Clearwater.
The top-seeded Pirates will begin tournament play on Tuesday against No. 8 Wichita State, a team from which they took two of three just a couple of weeks ago.
Despite their regular season success and a starting pitching staff as deep and talented as there is in the nation, the double-elimination event is anything but a slam dunk with Houston and Connecticut — the only two other teams to win an AAC tourney title — on the same side of the bracket.
If they do take care of business and repeat their title from a year ago, they’ll almost certainly gain one of the coveted top eight NCAA tournament seeds that would keep them at home for as long as they stay alive on the road to Omaha.
It’s an advantage that would greatly enhance ECU’s chances of earning its long-awaited first ever College World Series trip.
At the same time, it doesn’t guarantee anything, which is why winning the AAC postseason title isn’t nearly as important as is continuing the run of strong play the Pirates have been on since their three-game sweep at the hands of UCLA over a month ago.
“This team has been through a lot of ups and downs,” star junior Bryant Packard said after Sunday’s game. “Early in the year, I don’t think we thought we’d be here. But we picked up that momentum. I’m just really happy for the team we picked up all these records. We deserve it with the way we work.”
And yet, nothing will stunt momentum faster than going two-and-BBQ in a tournament that is merely a preliminary to the main event. The Pirates don’t want to risk peaking too soon by coming up flat in Florida.
Whether they bring home another trophy or not doesn’t matter as much as their ability to play well, stay healthy and keep the taste of winning games fresh on their collective palate. Because as a key member of the team noted, there’s still potentially a lot of baseball left to play.
A lot is at stake game by game as the Pirates have a legitimate shot at adding the most important achievement of all to an already impressive list of 2019 accomplishments.
“We just need to go down there to Clearwater and take care of business,” said Alec Burleson, a semifinalist for the John Olerud Award as he best two-way player in college baseball. “Hopefully we can work to get that national seed. But it was great being beside these guys all season and it’s just starting right now. We just have a long ways to go.”
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