East Carolina trailed for most of the way in a 7-2 loss at Campbell on Wednesday. The setback put the Pirates at 3-1 going into a doubleheader Saturday at noon against visiting Georgia Southern.
“We did not play well enough to win,” said ECU coach Cliff Godwin. “There were some guys who played well — guys who got out there for the first time on the mound. Some guys pitched good. Some guys did not.
“Offensively, I did not think up and down our lineup, at-bats were tough. I think Campbell was the better team (Wednesday).
The Pirates also lost their fourth game last season at Buies Creek, but recovered to go 47-18, including 20-4 in the American Athletic Conference. ECU topped the Camels three times subsequently in Greenville, including twice to win the NCAA regional hosted by the Pirates.
Godwin said he didn’t sense any extra motivation for Campbell from 10-3 and 12-3 wins for ECU in the Greenville regional last year.
“Every time we go there, they put their best foot forward, as I would do if I was the head coach at Campbell,” Godwin said. “They’re excited to play one of the best teams in the country. They always play well there. They came out and they took it to us. Some guys responded. Some guys did not. Definitely a good learning opportunity for us. We’ll break down the video (Thursday) and watch it with the guys and get better.”
The Pirate coaches are still in an evaluation process with 18 new players on the roster.
“It’s too early to say like a lot about what you’ve learned,” Godwin said. “I’ll know more once we’ve played more games. There’s some guys emerging that are guys we feel confident in giving the ball to. When you look at (Wednesday), (Trystan) Kimmel has been a guy we can go to. Parker Boyle had his first outing (Wednesday). He had been battling some arm soreness. He pitched well for an inning. C.J. Mayhue has been outstanding the two times he’s been out there. Nate Nabholz had his first opportunity and threw a clean inning. Bradley Wilson got his first opportunity (Wednesday) as well and threw well.
“That’s the thing about this team. What we continue to learn is what pieces of the puzzle to put here and put there.
“Offensively, we have to be tougher and that’s my responsibility. We’ve just got to have tougher at-bats. I thought the guys that came off the bench (Wednesday) had the toughest at-bats with Skylar Brooks and A-Mak (Alec Makarewicz) and some other guys. So we’re going to continue to put guys out there who will give us the best chance to win and give us a little toughness about ourselves.”
ECU hosts Georgia Southern for a 3-game series Saturday and Sunday.
“They were looking to play,” Godwin said. “They had an open weekend. We had an open weekend. Rodney Hennon has done a really good job with their program. I know they’re 3-1. They’ll be well-coached. They’re good. They had Georgia Tech beat on Tuesday night and lost a one-run lead in the ninth. … I’m not concerned about Georgia Southern. I’m concerned about our guys. If we get better every single day, that’s the thing that I care about. We took a step back but it’s a small step (Wednesday), having to go on the road for the first time, a day trip and all that good stuff.
“We need to get better at managing that situation and we will.”
Alec Burleson, Tyler Smith and Jake Kuchmaner comprised the weekend rotation as the Pirates swept William & Mary to start the season.
The trio project as the starters this weekend.
“That’s what I anticipate,” Godwin said. “We have not exactly set it just because, with weather, we play a doubleheader Saturday now instead of playing a game on Friday. We’ll look at it (Thursday) and kind of go from there.
Kuchmaner’s pitch count will be increased. He threw 31 pitches Sunday in a 7-4 win over the Tribe as he works his way back from some arm soreness.
“It will be expanded from last weekend,” Godwin said. “It’s not going to go from 35 pitches to 100 pitches. Kuchmaner’s health is the most important thing.”
Elon on Tuesday
The Pirates make their second road trip on Tuesday for a 4 p.m. game with Elon, weather permitting.
Godwin didn’t know how ECU’s pitching would stack up for the Phoenix. Junior left-hander Elijah Gill made the midweek start at Campbell but yielded three earned runs in one and two-thirds innings, absorbing the loss.
“We’re going to try to win the first game Saturday and see who’s available when the weekend is over,” Godwin said. “I have no idea who will pitch next Tuesday at Elon.”
Injuries have put right-handed pitcher Gavin Williams and outfielder Christian Smallwood on the shelf thus far. Williams hit 100 miles per hour in the Greenville regional last season and may impact the weekend rotation when he returns.
Williams fractured a finger in preseason practice.
“That’s a pretty big injury and Christian Smallwood hasn’t played,” Godwin said. “Gavin, we’re hoping to get back in some capacity for the Keith LeClair. Smallwood is kind of day-to-day.”
Indiana, Ole Miss and High Point comprise the field for the LeClair Classic, honoring the memory of former ECU coach Keith LeClair, Feb. 28 through March 1, at Clark-LeClair Stadium.
Godwin was coached by LeClair during his career as an academic All-American for the Pirates.
“It’s going to be three quality opponents,” Godwin said. “You’ve got Indiana, which Indiana went down to LSU opening weekend and took one game from LSU. You’ve got Ole Miss, which beat the No. 1 team in the country (Louisville) two out of three. They won (Wednesday, 9-8 over Alcorn State). You’ve got High Point, which is always a solid club. It will be a challenge.
“Like I always say, I’m not worried about that. I’m worried about today and how we can get better today.”
There are five ranked teams from North Carolina, including the Pirates, who entered the week as high as No. 16 in the polls.
The caliber of the in-state programs intensifies demands in recruiting.
“There are a lot of people working hard at their jobs and a lot of great baseball in North Carolina,” Godwin said. “It’s tough, like it always is.”
N.C. State returns to the ECU schedule in 2021 for home and away games.
The forecast wasn’t favorable for outdoor practice Thursday.
“We’re going to watch video,” Godwin said Thursday morning. “We’ll get a good workout in and just do some things to get better.”