Coming off a 3-1 series win at Cincinnati, East Carolina (36-11, 18-6 American Athletic Conference) closes the regular season with a 4-game set at South Florida (22-24, 12-12).
The Pirates play a doubleheader in Tampa today, starting at 2 p.m.
Tulane (28-18, 17-6) closes the regular season with four games at Cincinnati (25-24, 14-14). The Green Wave is a half-game behind ECU in the American standings.
The Pirates made a breakthrough on the road last weekend and hope to continue that momentum. ECU is 27-4 at home and 9-7 away from Clark-LeClair Stadium.
The Pirates, in their seventh season under alumnus Cliff Godwin, are ranked No. 11 by Division I Baseball.
“Really good weekend this past weekend,” Godwin said. “I thought our guys battled through a lot of adversity. In game one (8-4 ECU win), Gavin (Williams) pitched great. We played good.
“Game two (7-6 loss in 10 innings), just didn’t get a quality start and had to go to the bullpen early. Guys battled but we didn’t really play well enough to win. The game was lost well before the 10th inning. I thought we did a good job of just scratching and clawing to put ourselves in a position to even go to extra innings.
“We did it, but it didn’t work out. I thought our guys rebounded really well on Saturday (7-6 win) because everybody thinks a game three starter is a game three starter. Well, (Evan) Shawver is their Friday night guy. He’s just throwing in game three.
“I thought Carson (Whisenhunt) gave us a quality start. I thought our guys did an unbelievable job offensively, just grinding on him and he was at like 105 (pitches) after five innings. Got him out of the game and were able to just hold on at the end and win by a run.
“And then Sunday (5-2 win), it was really two tired teams playing each other. … They were just battling. Four games and extra innings. It was a lot, 11 o’clock start. We started Cam (Colmore) and we knew we were just going to maybe get an inning or two out of him. He wanted to go longer but we wanted to make sure he’s available for the rest of the year.
“A lot of guys stepped up. Landon Ginn was huge, Danny Beal was huge. Josh Grosz was huge. And then C.J. Mayhue, what he did for us this past weekend. He really pitched great his last two outings on Saturday and Sunday and looked like himself and that’s great to see going down the stretch.
“I thought our guys just played well. To go 3-1 on the road is huge.
“Going into this week, we’re a half-game in first place. We control our own destiny. That’s all you can ask for going into the last weekend. Of course, we’ll need to play well down at South Florida to be able to hold onto this thing. We’ve taken the past two days pretty much off. The guys have lifted weights, but they were cashed so we won’t practice again as a team until we get on the plane and head down to South Florida. We’ll practice at South Florida (Wednesday) night.”
The AAC is playing 4-game weekend series this season with no midweek games as opposed to 3-game weekend sets in previous years.
“It’s a lot different, trying to maneuver through it,” Godwin said. “When we play one game in the conference tournament, it’s going to feel like we’re at recess … because of these 4-game weekends. It’s worn on everybody as the season keeps going on. The last couple, it just seems like you’re out there for 20 hours in one day when you’re playing that doubleheader. Everybody’s trying to win but when you’re fighting for first place, there’s more stress in it than other teams, what Tulane and us are having to go through.
“Of course, everybody is trying to beat us but at the same time it’s just every pitch is the difference between winning and losing a game. All the games were close at Cincinnati. Playing a team eight times and winning seven out of eight is pretty good. I don’t care if you’re playing a high school team, it’s tough to beat a team that many times. And Cincinnati is not bad. They’re well coached and they’re very good offensively and I think they’ve got really good starting pitching.
“We’re just getting ready for this weekend and we’ll try to get our guys as fresh as possible and get ready to go for South Florida.”
The B-Gs stepped up against the Bearcats — freshman pitchers Beal, Ginn and Grosz.
“I hope it gives them a lot of confidence,” Godwin said. “I really thought Landon was just super confident, just attacking the strike zone. Danny and him, I think they went 14 up and 14 down in a tight game on the road. That was huge for them to continue to go out there and do that. A.J. Wilson (another freshman) had a big weekend, too, coming in and getting some lefties out for us. A lot of guys stepped up.”
Kuch from pen
The Pirates have been trying to utilize left-hander Jake Kuchmaner in other ways after some struggles in his customary starting role.
“Kuch pitched really well out of the bullpen on Friday for two innings and then for whatever reason, kind of lost his command, the first two batters (in the ninth) and we went to another guy after that,” Godwin said. “Sunday, his stuff’s a lot better. He got a guy (Griffin Merritt) 2-2. … He’s hitting in the nine hole I think, but eight home runs and he threw a 2-2 fast ball right down the middle and the guy hit it out. He didn’t execute that pitch. The thing that bothered me the most, and Kuch and I talked about this was he walked the next guy. That’s just not like him.
“But he played first base for us as well. (Josh) Moylan tweaked his hamstring. He was kind of laboring into second base on that double when he knocked in two guys on Friday. I really didn’t think he’d be able to go Saturday. Zac Womack (trainer) did a tremendous job with him and he said, ‘Look, I can run 80 percent.’ I said, ‘Well, you’re not fast anyway so we’ll just DH you. If you get in a double play situation, hit the ball in the air.’
“He did a great job. He had some really good at-bats for us Saturday and Sunday. Hopefully, he feels better and is an option to play first base. He actually tweaked it stretching at first base. That’s the way he kind of tweaked his hamstring.”
Starting pitching at USF
Godwin didn’t say who would pitch regarding the starters at USF.
“Gavin Williams will pitch at some point in time,” Godwin said. “Carson Whisenhunt will pitch at some point in time. Tyler Smith will pitch at some point in time. After that, I’ve got no idea. We’re going to figure it out on the fly. See how guys feel.
“Look, we’re going down there to win. We’re not going down there to throw off. We’re playing for something. I just don’t know how it’s going to stack up right now. We’ll continue to see how guys feel and how their bullpens go and all that good stuff.”
The Pirates will remain in the Sunshine State for the league tournament next week.
“We fly Wednesday from RDU to Tampa,” Godwin said. “We’ll be in Tampa from Wednesday afternoon until Sunday. We’ll play the four games. We’ll lift on Sunday. We’ll get on the bus and drive to Clearwater Sunday afternoon. Check into the hotel there. Practice, I think, on Monday. I’m going to be honest with you. I don’t even know what the conference tournament looks like. Have not looked at it. It’s one of those years … where it’s game by game. I don’t even know when the games are. We play on Tuesday. I think everybody is playing on Tuesday. That’s all I know.”
Williams takes an 8-0 record and 1.47 earned run average to Tampa.
“He’s solidified the Friday night role for us and taken the ball, once he got healthy, and kudos to him,” Godwin said.
“I don’t know if I’ve said this publicly or not but Gavin Williams bet on himself by not taking some money out of the professional draft. I didn’t twist his arm. He and I had a discussion. He told me these were the things he was looking for. I made sure he told his parents the same thing he told me. I said, ‘if this is what you’re saying then make sure you tell your parents. If it doesn’t work out the way you want it to, then come back here and prove to people that you can take the ball on Friday night and go out there.
“I don’t think he would have went out in professional baseball — and this is my personal opinion and who am I? — but if he’d have left last year, his repertoire of pitches wouldn’t be as good as they are right now and they probably would have thrown him in the bullpen. … Now he’s proving to people that he can take the ball and go out there and throw five to seven innings and be lights out. It’s really special. I definitely think people take it for granted. I do not take it for granted. Our coaches do not take it for granted. Our players don’t take it for granted, but it’s really how (Jake) Agnos was back in ’19. When they go out there, you’ve got a really good chance to win the baseball game when they’re pitching. They would stack up against anybody in the country.
“Gavin Williams could pitch anywhere and Jake could, too, as a lot of our pitchers — but to take the ball on Friday night, people don’t understand how important that is because you’re matching up against everybody else’s No. 1 and Gavin’s done an unbelievable job doing that.”
The Pirates have a lot of uniform combinations available.
“We really look at that graphic that they put on Twitter and see how many wins we have in each uniform,” Godwin said. “That’s the way we decide so we just wear the uniform that we’ve won the most games. Nah, I’m kidding.
“At home, we get to decide what we wear. On the road, you have to match up against what they’re wearing and teams have different uniforms, like we do, so you can’t wear black when they’re wearing black. If they’re wearing red, you don’t really want to wear purple. You try to mix and match what they’re wearing. That’s the way we do it.”
Focus on title
The upcoming league tournament, which starts Tuesday, is not a concern at the moment.
“We’re playing for a regular-season title,” Godwin said. “We’re going to play for a regular-season title. Then we’ll figure out Tuesday when it gets here. We have enough guys that even if we have to bullpen it on Tuesday, then we can bullpen it on Tuesday. We’re just going to worry about taking it game by game. We’ve put ourselves in a good situation. That’s why I haven’t even looked at the conference tournament. Right now, the conference tournament doesn’t matter. We’re going to play in the conference tournament but we need to worry about South Florida right now.”
Putting together a scouting report on USF has been a secondary objective.
“We got back at 1:30 (a.m. on Monday) ,” Godwin said Tuesday. “I have not looked at South Florida. I have no idea what they have. I know they’re good enough to beat us. That’s about it. They’ve got some good players.
“I don’t worry about the other team. Yeah, I go watch all the pitchers and give the hitters information. (Jason Dietrich, pitching coach) and (Austin Knight, volunteer assistant) and Jeff (Palumbo, associate head coach) watch the offensive side of the ball for South Florida, but we’re worried about ourselves.
“Like if we go out there and execute what we do, then we feel like we’re in pretty good shape. That comes from John Wooden (former UCLA basketball coach). Don’t overly concern yourself with other opponents, overly concern yourself with yourself. What you’re doing, execute, and if you execute at a high level of what you’re good at, the rest will take care of itself.
“I think a lot of teams get caught up in who they’re playing, what they’re doing and all that and we get caught up in ourselves. That’s why, we’ve been able to this point, sustain a lot of consistency in our program because we worry about ourselves. We don’t worry about the other stuff that we can’t control.”
USF Baseball Stadium
After playing on a synthetic surface at Cincinnati,. the Pirates will be back on natural turf at USF.
“We haven’t been there in a few years, but it plays normal,” Godwin said. “They’ve got a nice facility. It’ll be hot. The (grass) infield is going to be pretty firm. Balls get through the infield pretty good.