East Carolina wrapped up its record-setting regular season on a down note, falling to Memphis 10-9 on Saturday at Clark-LeClair Stadium.
While the final game didn’t go the Pirates’ way, most of the rest of the season most certainly did. The Pirates set a new American Athletic Conference regular season record by going 20-4 in league play.
“Lots of people have asked me to reflect on what that means,” said ECU coach Cliff Godwin on Saturday. “I’m proud of everyone within our program. That was one of our goals, to win the regular season title. It certainly wasn’t our only goal and we’ve got a lot of work to still do.”
That work starts in Clearwater, Florida, as the Pirates look to defend their 2018 American Tournament title from a year ago.
There’s also NCAA seeding to play for this week. ECU began the week with an RPI (Ratings Percentage Index) of 5. That RPI can still fluctuate a little in tournament play, but teams won’t get extra points for road wins because of the neutral sites. Also, the way the standings played out, the Pirates have better RPI teams in their half of the bracket, which consists of Tuesday’s opponent Wichita State along with Houston and Connecticut.
Monday in Clearwater featured a short round of infield for each team at Spectrum Field, and then batting practice at one of the side fields. It’s all part of the Philadelphia Phillies spring training home. The main stadium is also home of the Clearwater Threshers of the Florida State League in minor league baseball.
Although most of the seats will be empty throughout the week, this is a great venue for the teams. It’s a reward for a long season. The trick is to win and then get a day off. Win again and take another day off. That’s the ECU plan for sure.
Monday also featured a day of awards in the league.
East Carolina’s Jake Agnos was named as the American’s Pitcher of the Year.
“It’s an awesome accomplishment. A lot of hard work went into it. I’m so grateful to be a part of this team, ” said Agnos. “I certainly couldn’t have done it without these guys around me. I’m excited, but that’s not why I came to East Carolina University. We’re not done yet. We’ve got a long season left. We have much bigger goals then that.”
Godwin, in his 5th season, was named as the AAC Coach of the Year.
“It’s really not about me,” said Godwin. “This is a total team effort and I’m very proud of what we have accomplished so far. We have reached a goal or two, but we’ve got a long way to go. We just want to get one percent better every time we go out.”
Six Pirates made the first team all-conference squad: Agnos and Jake Kuchmaner on the mound, Jake Washer behind the plate, Spencer Brickhouse as the DH and Alec Burleson and Bryant Packard in the outfield. Brickhouse and Burleson also made the second team, Burley as a utility player and Brickhouse as the first baseman.
As far as the tournament goes for East Carolina it will be a true balancing act.
On the one hand, Cliff Godwin preaches championships. He’d love to add a third tournament title to his resume this week. The Pirates are the top seed and the favorites in this event.
On the other hand this team will be hosting a regional next weekend in Greenville. Coach Godwin wants his team playing its best baseball. He also wants this team to be healthy with fresh legs, fired up for the stretch run. That carrot of a national seed is also dangling in front of the Pirates. There is no easy way to get to Omaha, but playing at home in the NCAA Super Regionals certainly helps!
The key to both winning this tournament and being fresh next weekend will be on the mound. Alec Burleson will start game one on Tuesday against Wichita State. Jake Agnos will start in game two. Burley needs a big game with minimal bullpen help. Even if he leaves the game early, winning is the critical component because that means a day off on Wednesday.
Thankfully the weather looks good for this week. That certainly wasn’t the case last year when teams were forced to play game after game to try and get the event in, which they did.
The ECU postseason is off and running in Clearwater. Here’s hoping for a nice run this week, an even better run next week, and a Clark-LeClair NCAA Super Regional in two weeks.
Hang on, because this could be a lot of fun.