After a mystifying 3-game sweep at home at the hands of Bryant to start the season, East Carolina looked like the team Pirate Nation was expecting to see in 2022 with a 10-3 win at Campbell on Tuesday.
ECU took control of the nonconference contest with a 5-run fifth inning, which marked a turning point in the young campaign.
“It’s good to see our guys go on the road and play in a tough environment, obviously sold out every time we go there,” said ECU coach Cliff Godwin on Thursday morning. “Normally calls don’t go our way, which they didn’t early on. And just to see our guys compete, I thought our pitching was outstanding. I thought our guys pitched in the clutch. I thought once we settled in, in that fifth inning, and put some barrels on some balls, I thought our guys got back to being themselves a little bit.
“I think they were pressing before that. You know, up and down the lineup, we had a lot of quality at-bats, and it was great to see those guys string at-bats together, stick to our plan and score a lot of runs. Our guys stuck to our plan and there was a lot more solid contact, for sure.”
Godwin talked about putting an 0-3 start in perspective before taking on the Camels, the preseason favorites in the Big South Conference.
“We spoke briefly Sunday after the game,” Godwin said. “I met with our Pirates council on Monday and had a team meeting before we left to get on the bus to go to Campbell, and told them how difficult the environment was going to be. … And that was about it. So, that’s the unique thing about baseball is you play a lot of games. So if you continue to feel sorry for yourself, it can turn into a great big problem. And I thought our guys flipped the page and did a good job on Tuesday.”
Carson Whisenhunt has yet to see action. The left-hander was projected as ECU’s Friday starter after going 6-2 for a 44-17 team in 2021 with a 3.77 earned run average.
Godwin is not using Whisemnhunt’s absence as an excuse for the Pirates’ performance against Bryant.
“There’s no impact,” said the ECU coach. “I mean, look, we got a job to do. Everybody’s got a job to do. He is not pitching for us right now. So there’s no impact.”
Godwin isn’t saying when Whisenhunt will return.
“It’s my decision,” Godwin said. “He violated a team rule … opening weekend.”
Lane Hoover has five hits in the last two games.
“Lane’s been in our program,” Godwin said. “This is his fourth year, and he’s always been a spark plug, always been a guy that shows up to practice and gets after it and is such a team guy. No matter if he thinks he’s playing or not, he shows up, goes about his business the exact same way. He’s a special human being, and if everybody showed up like he did every single day, we’d be in really good shape. Just a pleasure to coach.
“He played well on Sunday. Played well on Tuesday. … Gave us a big spark.”
UNC on deck
The No. 25 Pirates play in Chapel Hill today at 4 p.m..
“That’s a unique series,” said the ECU alumnus and eighth-year coach. “We play Friday, Saturday in Chapel Hill and then come back home on Sunday. You know Coach (Scott) Forbes and I have decided that we’re going to play, which I appreciate him having the willingness to do. Every second weekend of every year, we’ll play a 3-game series. So next year it’ll be Friday, Saturday here in Greenville, and then Sunday in Chapel Hill.”
Godwin said the weekend rotation will include Garrett Saylor, Jake Kuchmaner and Jake Hunter — the same as last weekend.
Saylor struggled in the season opener.
“His fast ball was flat and when his fast ball’s flat, it makes it more difficult for him to maneuver through a lineup,” Godwin said. “And Bryant did a good job, but he needs to sink the baseball. If he’s sinking the baseball, it’s good. You know, he’s got a chance to go long into the game because of soft contact.”
Kuchmaner has a career 17-6 record for ECU. After some struggles in 2021, the senior southpaw went six innings with no earned runs and eight strikeouts on Saturday in the Bryant series.
“I don’t know if he could have had a better start,” Godwin said. “He pitched his tail off and went six innings, punched out of eight. I don’t know if he walked a guy (one). The only run he gave up was unearned. Really happy to see him do that because he’s been doing that for the past eight months, starting in the fall. So I wasn’t surprised about that because of the way he’s been going about his business..
“He’s made some adjustments. I think the biggest thing is the way he was taking care of himself off the field, mentally and physically, and a tweak here or there with Coach (Austin) Knight (pitching coach) in the fall. But Kuch has done a really good job of just showing up and being himself and helping other guys get better.”
First-year players have gotten significant playing time thus far in 2022.
“We’ve got some very talented freshmen that got some opportunities this past weekend,” Godwin said. “We have some new guys that we’re definitely counting on. So they’ll continue to grow, continue to get better. I think Jacob Jenkins-Cowart had a really good weekend and he’s really continued to come on. Ryan McCrystal is a guy that you’ll continue to see a lot of.
“Ayden Edwards, you haven’t seen much of him, but he will be able to get some time at some point in time as well. So we’re looking forward to those guys to continue to grow up and develop and be ready when their name’s called.”
Godwin was a catcher for the Pirates, an academic All-American. ECU has numbers behind the plate.
“We’re deep behind the plate,” Godwin said. “Justin Wilcoxen has got the majority of the time. He’s a guy that nobody’s really seen before this year. He’s just been in our program and continued to work and had done a tremendous job so far. Ben Newton, of course, he has caught some before. He’ll still be in that mix and catching. And then you’ve got Ryan McCrystal and Ayden Edwards, two freshmen. Ryan’s a little bit more offensive, Ayden’s a little bit more defensive. So they complement each other well.”
A game-winning home run by Wilcoxen in the bottom of the ninth against Bryant on Saturday was negated because first-base umpire Mac Stokes said he called time before the pitch. Godwin has been questioned quite a bit about what happened.
“Mac Stokes called time, and said he couldn’t see (sun),” Godwin said. “Nobody could hear him. The pitch was thrown, happened right before the guy, I guess, started his delivery. I don’t know. You couldn’t tell on video, but I’ve never seen it happen. Never seen a base umpire call time unless there was an object on the field and he called time. So, that was the end of it.”