With the start of baseball season against Rhode Island at Clark-LeClair Stadium coming up on Feb. 19, East Carolina coach Cliff Godwin talked about his team’s state of preparedness via Zoom earlier this week.
During the pandemic, Godwin is as concerned with bubbles, testing and protocols as he is with the things that he deals with during the lead-up to a season under normal circumstances.
“We’ve had two weekends of scrimmages,” Godwin said. “We’ve been in practice since Jan. 29 was our first day. Guys have done a really good job. Early on, we had some COVID protocol stuff going on. But right now we are full strength. Every player is on the field and we’re rockin’ and rollin’.
“This weekend was good and the guys have done a good job up to this point. Obviously, as we all know, it’s different. Just trying to keep our bubble tight as we move forward. We’re in a pretty good situation with the number of guys that have antibodies from the fall and the guys that just came out of COVID protocol. We’re in pretty good shape right now, but as the season keeps going, guys could lose antibodies and who knows if you can get it or not after that. I’m not a doctor, so I won’t try to be one.”
Godwin said the Pirates don’t lack for leadership.
“The first weekend was a little bit helter-skelter, just because we were missing some guys and we had some weather, Godwin said. “We actually went Friday, Saturday, Monday last weekend because it rained all day Sunday. I’ve actually been impressed with some of the older guys, the leadership that they’ve had. When we need something to be accomplished, talk to Matt Bridges, Tyler Smith, Cam Colmore, Jake Kuchmaner. Franny (Thomas Francisco), Ryder (Giles), Seth (Caddell), Bryson (Worrell), whoever. I mean we have a lot of guys returning so they know what the expectations are.
“I know this sounds crazy but I think they’re pretty hungry. They’re ready to play somebody else. We still need a few weeks of practice in my opinion but the older guys, you talk about a team that got their season, the rug pulled out from under them. They’re pretty hungry on most days. (Sunday) was tough conditions outside, especially early, and it got better as the day went on, but I thought our guys had great energy and intent to intersquad and take batting practice when it was cool outside and the wind was blowing pretty good.”
Upside of COVID?
Godwin was asked if there is an upside to the pandemic .
“I know this sounds crazy but guys that have antibodies and guys that just have it, we’ve got about 30 guys that for the next month are in a safe bubble,” Godwin said. :The doctors don’t have to test because they’ve got antibodies and they’re within the 90-day window. We’re in good shape for at least the next month, having a lot of our players on the field.
“The thing I worry about is guys dropping their guard when they have the antibodies or they’re in that 90-day window because then it becomes a habit and when they come out of antibodies or the 90-day window … It’s important. You’ve got to wear your mask.
“The contact tracing is what crushes, in my opinion, the team. If you get dinged, the kid may not even get COVID but they’re dinged for contact tracing, then they’re going to miss probably seven days at least. Then if you do get COVID, you’re talking about most likely about 18 days to get through COVID, the blood testing, the EKG and then the return to play. You’re talking about an 18-day window that you’re going to miss for sure. Then you obviously miss baseball so it takes a little bit of time to knock that rust off.”
Some unfavorable weather has not kept the Pirates from practicing.
“We’ve been really lucky with the tarp and just being able to get all of our practices in so far,” Godwin said. “As you look at the future forecast this weekend, it doesn’t look great but two days ago it looked like we were going to have a snow-out for like four days.
“We would much rather have rain than snow but it is what it is. You’ve got to play in 35-degree weather early in February. They’re not going to give you a mulligan because you lost a game in 35-degree weather. They’re going to say, ‘East Carolina got beat,’ It doesn’t matter what the conditions are. Up to this point, our guys have done a really good job of managing that.”
The Pirates had a defensive lapse over the weekend.
“We’ve been really clean until (Sunday),” Godwin said. “We just had a couple of errors that was not characteristic of what our team has been. We’re not like putting a starting nine on one side and guys that could fill those roles on the other side. We’re mixing and matching. (Sunday) Ryder was at short for one team. (Connor) Norby was at second for the other team, just to continue to help those younger guys have some better experience on the other teams. But we played really good defense up until (Sunday), really consistently. You only put nine out there so some of the errors were not from the nine that will be out there on Feb. 19 (season opener at home vs. Rhode Island).”
ECU has been ranked in a number of preseason baseball polls.
“There’s a lot of things to be optimistic about,” Godwin said. “As I told our guys, and I want this to be the message to everybody, ‘I don’t see anybody ranking us No. 1. A lot of polls have us ranked pretty low. I don’t know what your expectations level is as players but my expectation level as a head coach is to win a national championship.’ People probably look at me like I’m crazy. ‘Well, ECU baseball has never been to Omaha.’ Well, our goal is to win a national championship. That’s what we go out to try to do every single day is have a national championship practice.
“Our strengths, we’re deep on the mound. We’re deeper than we’ve ever been as probably 99 percent of baseball programs would tell you they’re deeper on the mound than they’ve been in a long time with the reduced rounds in the major league baseball draft. We’re experienced. Every position player that’s going to run out there on Feb. 19, minus (Alec) Burleson, is probably the guys that you guys saw for the majority of the 17 games that we played.
“I think our leadership is as good as it’s ever been. Matt Bridges and Cam Colmore have been in our program for six years. Tyler Smith, five. Jake Kuchmaner, four. Seth Caddell, four. And I could keep going on and on with naming players. …
“I think our defense is a strength. I think we’re good offensively. No one person is going to replace Burleson, but we’ve got some pretty good hitters in our program. Bryson (Worrell) has been a beast so far. Seth’s been a beast. Ryder’s better. Franny’s better. You can go around. Norby’s better than what he showed in a very short amount of time. Agnos is better. We’re excited to go out there and see how we compare to other teams, but we’re going to always focus on ourselves. That’s the biggest thing. … I don’t concern ourselves with the opponents that we’re playing. My concern is with how well we’re doing, what we do on a high level. If we do that, we’ll win more games than we lose.”
Gavin Williams hit 100 miles per hour in a stint against N.C. State in ECU’s comeback to win a regional championship in Greenville in 2019.
“Gavin has had some misfortune,” Godwin said. “He’s dealing with some misfortune right now, too. I don’t know if he’ll be available for opening weekend, so we can go ahead and get that elephant out of the room. He has not thrown in a scrimmage yet. He has thrown bullpens and is getting better. I don’t know. He definitely won’t start opening weekend. Gavin knows that and our staff knows that. We want to make sure to bring him along slowly so that we can have him. We’d rather have him at full strength at the end of the season than at the beginning of the season.”
Staff still deep
Even with Williams on the shelf to start the 2021 season, the Pirates have an abundance of arms.
“Everybody thought that Gavin getting hurt last year was the end of the world, “Godwin said. “But we had a guy named Burleson who stepped up for us on Friday night and he was OK.
“I would say right now it’s going to be between Tyler Smith and Kuch on Friday and the other one will pitch on Saturday. (Carson) Whisenhunt and (Carter) Spivey have both pitched great. They are pushing those other two guys. Carson Whisenhunt has given up three runs, dating back to the fall, in 20 innings. He’s got really good stuff and has held his composure to this point. And Spivey (a sophomore) looks like a veteran. … He has a much different look about himself than he did his freshman fall, … He’s walking around with this quiet confidence.”