The East Carolina baseball team adapted to protocols relating to the coronavirus pandemic and had a productive offseason in the classroom and on the field during fall semester.
ECU alumnus Cliff Godwin, an academic All-American for the Pirates, had his sixth season as coach cut short after a 13-4 start in 2020, but the program is preparing for 2021 with adjustments that include a different format for the Keith LeClair Classic and an expanded American Athletic Conference schedule.
“Our guys did a good job once we got going and understood kind of what we needed to do to maneuver through the COVID times,” Godwin said. “Fall practice went off as normal. I think that our guys did a really good job of keeping themselves inside the bubble in their groups and stuff once the semester started going along.
“There was a little bit of difference splitting up in groups and going to the weight room. You won’t hear any excuses about ECU baseball in the spring about we weren’t able to get something in. We had a full-team fall practice and the guys did a really good job of getting after it this fall.”
Godwin shared some thoughts on how personnel performed during fall workouts, which culminated with the Purple-Gold World Series.
“That was the first full weekend in November when we finished up fall baseball,” Godwin said. “Our guys did a good job and finished strong.
“For the entire fall, Seth Caddell behind the plate did an unbelievable job of blocking, receiving and throwing. He had a great fall offensively.
“Zach Agnos did a great job at third base, being a leader and just continuing to improve his game.
“Alec Makarewicz played third, played some outfield, can play second. He did a really good job of pushing guys all over the field because he’s a guy that can play anywhere on the field. He’s definitely a quality option at third base.
“At shortstop, Ryder Giles took advantage of COVID and got faster, got stronger. We worked on his swing virtually, me and him. In my opinion, he’s got a chance to be one of the best shortstops in the country, just a total package.
“Connor Norby continued to build on his brief 2020 spring, which he was playing really well for us. He has a chance to have a great spring,
“At first base, Thomas Francisco, who also played a lot in left field. He’ll have a chance to play both places. He had a great fall.
“Freshman Josh Moylan, really swung the bat extremely well. We’ve got more pitching depth and more stuff, high-end stuff than we’ve ever had, so it’s just not easy for a freshman to have success and be able to maneuver through that as well as he did.
“Lane Hoover, the spark plug he always is out in the outfield.
“Smalls, Christian Smallwood, great fall, continues to improve his outfield defense, led our team in RBIs.
“And then Bryson (Worrell) in center, he missed a little time. He had strep throat. He has a chance to do a lot of great things for us.
“There’s a ton of other guys that I didn’t mention that had good falls as well.
“On the mound, you’ve got the guys that are returning that everybody kind of knows about — Gavin Williams, Jake Kuchmaner, Tyler Smith, a fifth-year guy that has pitched as many innings as any player that has ever been in our program to come back and have that kind of experience. And then Matt Bridges and Cam Colmore, two other guys — you’re talking about sixth-year seniors. Guys that have seen it all. They had good falls.
“A.J. Wilson, lefty out of the bullpen, had a really good fall. Carter Spivey and Carson Whisenhunt will fight for rotation spots with Gavin Williams, Kuchmaner and Smith. Whisenhunt has got power stuff and Spivey pitched as good as anybody in the fall. Those five guys will kind of push for the rotation. Three freshmen did a good job. Returning junior college guys did a good job.
“The guys overall, I think they were hungry with the spring being shortened. They did a great job competing every day. We’re excited about what the season holds for us.”
The banquet to celebrate the start of the upcoming season will require remote access.
“It will be virtual,” Godwin said. “On February 13, we’re going to have a virtual banquet and we’re excited about that. We’ll do some things a little bit differently. You’ll be able to bid on auction items for an entire week, where normally you just have that night to be able to do it.
“You have to buy a ticket. All of that stuff is out on social media. Get a ticket. Prices go up a little bit when January 13 rolls around, a month away, but before that, they’re a little bit cheaper.”
ECU was No. 16 in Collegiate Baseball’s preseason rankings announced Monday. The Pirates are wary of being defined by their position in the polls.
“Go back to the spring of ’17, you learn from experience,” Godwin said. “If you get excited as a team about where you’re ranked preseason, then you’ve got a good chance of not meeting that expectation of playing up to your ability. We’re just worried about taking care of today, staying in the present moment and focusing on the process. If we do that, then we’ll be the best version of ourselves as a group and each player will be able to do that individually.”
ECU starts preseason practice next month.
“It’s the last weekend in January,” Godwin said. “That’s the one thing COVID has done for us. We don’t look too far ahead. We just stay in the present. I think it starts January 29th.”
Reports have stated that the AAC schedule will be expanded from 24 games to 32. An AAC weekend series will consist of four games rather than three. Godwin said the Pirates won’t play any midweek games once the league slate is underway.
“We’ll play as many games as possible,” Godwin said. “It’ll look a little bit different than it has in the past, but we’re going to play baseball and we will play somebody on February 19th. … That will be at home.”
There are plans to have a Keith LeClair Classic in 2021, with an adjusted format, March 5-7..
“We’re going to have the Keith LeClair Classic but we’re going to play just one in-state opponent,” Godwin said.
Goidwin demands that his players perform in the classroom and another impressive semester was the result.
“We had a 3.598 team (grade point average) this fall,” Godwin said. “We did a really good job academically. Three guys had a 4.0. That’s the second-highest team GPA that we’ve ever had. I think the spring we had a 3.61. That marks four straight years of having a 3.41 or higher team GPA.”
The Pirates also check the box when it comes to working for the good of the community.
“I took a few guys before Thanksgiving and we went over to help the Firstborn Ministry do the turkey packing,” Godwin said. “We normally take our entire team but the way the semester fell this year, our guys were actually done with classes that Friday before Thanksgiving. I think eight or nine of us went over there and packed up turkey boxes — green beans and yams and rice and all that good stuff.
“It was a little bit harder to do things like that this fall but that stuff is important to us, giving back to the community. … Less fortunate families, they come by to the church annex. We basically have an 18-wheeler, a tractor-trailer and it’s got frozen turkeys. So you set up an assembly line and you just pack these boxes. … Normally, you hand it to the families and you have a conversation with them. Just smile and make sure they know that they’re loved.
“This year, it was a little bit different. They took it to the car. They tried to smile but they had masks on and stuff so it made it a little more difficult.”
Godwin likes the perception generated by Dr. Philip Rogers, incoming chancellor, who will assume his duties on March 15,
“I think I have met him before,” Godwin said. “I have not met him since he has been named the chancellor. … Hey, he’s from Greenville, North Carolina. He seems excited. He’s got energy. I like people that have energy and they’re excited to be at East Carolina. I’m excited that we have someone in place to continue on with the future of East Carolina University.
“I thought Ron (Mitchelson) did a great job in the interim. Ron was very good to me. I think he’s an East Carolina guy. He’s been here for a long time and definitely had the best interests of our university. He’s passing on the torch. He’s been a Pirate. I’m just excited about the future of East Carolina University.”
During Mtchelson’s administration, Godwin was approved for a contract extension through the 2025 season.
Godwin was a multi-sport standout at nearby Greene Central in high school, playing basketball for his dad, Lewis, whose competitive energies are now devoted to golf.
Godwin was quarterback for the Rams and shared his feelings about the upcoming College Football Playoff.
“I think Alabama is going to win the national championship,” Godwin said. “I think that’s a pretty safe bet. I think Clemson is the team that will probably give them the run for their money. That’s me watching just enough to be dangerous.
“I think definitely Nick Saban and Dabo Swinney, what they’ve done, is really impressive just because of the consistency both programs have had over the past seven to 10 years. And they both do it in different ways, but it’s impressive to watch. Year in and year out, they’re always in that playoff and competing for a championship.”
Near the close of an interview Tuesday, Godwin made it clear he doesn’t want to be held responsible by fans who may not be able to gain admission to ECU games in 2021.
“Just tell everybody that East Carolina has nothing to do with the number of people that can be allowed in Clark-LeClair Stadium,” Godwin said. “Our governor is in charge of the number of people.
“A lot of people have said, ‘I hope East Carolina lets us have fans.’ East Carolina has nothing to do with that. That’s coming from much higher up. We’re hopeful, but our guys are just ready to play baseball.
“Whether there’s fans in the stands or not, we want to put a good product on the field for East Carolina University.
Maximizing the potential of an impressive collection of talent, particularly on the mound, will be a day-by-day process.
“Do what we have done a really good job of — just showing up every day and taking care of our business,” Godwin said. “If we do that, then that’s the key to success.”