East Carolina extended its winning streak to 11 games with a 7-6 nonconference win over visiting Campbell on Tuesday night. The surge has carried the Pirates to their third straight regular-season championship in the American Athletic Conference.
The Camels had won 24 of their previous 26 games and led 5-2 going to the bottom of the seventh.
“Just so proud of our guys and our coaching staff,” said eighth-year ECU coach Cliff Godwin. “We were 14-13 … after we lost the first game at Cincinnati in conference play, and we’ve been 20-5 since then. … The guys have bought into being extremely selfless. Doesn’t matter if they’re starting on the mound and go one or two innings, and just passing the ball. Everybody has been working hard to continue to get better, even when we weren’t playing well.
“And this day and age, for people to be selfless and continue to grind when there’s so many naysayers, and so much negativity outside of our locker room, I’m just as proud of this group as any group I’ve ever coached. And yeah, we’ve got a lot of work to do, still left to do. And we’re not just going to live on this award. We’re going to continue to get better. But I’m just super-proud, and I’m just glad that they persevered through a really tough start and a lot of adversity handed to them in a lot of different directions.”
The Pirates have won nine straight AAC games, including a sweep of South Florida at Clark-LeClair Stadium last weekend.
“Three totally different games,” said Godwin of the series with the Bulls. “(C.J.) Mayhue gave us a great start and I thought we played well on Friday night, Saturday, get behind, 3-0. J.C. (Jacob Jenkins-Cowart) has a huge walk with two outs, I think in the third inning. And then Bryson (Worrell) hits a 2-run homer, and it’s 3-2. You know, we went to the bullpen early. Trey Yesavage was good. (Carter) Spivey was outstanding.
“And we were able to expand late and Josh Grosz threw a great inning. (Wyatt Lunsford-Shenkman) threw a great inning. And then Sunday, Jake Hunter was outstanding. I mean, he was really, really good, and it was a close game. We were up 2-0. And then they tied up 2-2. We score a run. But really, I thought the eighth inning when Ben Newton had two outs, two strikes on him, continued to foul off pitches, battled, and then just moved the baseball with two strikes in kind of no-man’s land, and beats out the ground ball to first base. And then (Jacob) Starling gets hit by a pitch, and A-Mac (Alec Makarewicz) hits a 3-run homer to really blow it open a little bit and make the game feel different.
“We go up 6-2, and Ben Terwilliger was outstanding out at the bullpen, as well. So overall, great weekend. Any time you can sweep a team, it’s tremendous. And all our guys did a good job of finding different ways to win.”
The Pirates start a 3-game series with Houston at home tonight at 6:30 p.m. (ESPN+).
The ECU coach talked about the short week.
“Nothing really changes in my mind,” Godwin said Tuesday. “We’re going to do everything we can to win tonight (vs. Campbell). And we’ll practice on Wednesday, and get ready for Houston Thursday, Friday, Saturday.”
The series with the Cougars looked like it might impact the AAC regular-season title several weeks ago. The Pirates have eliminated that potential drama.
“We’re going to do everything we can to win every game that we can,” Godwin said. “I mean, that’s always been my philosophy. That’s not going to change. Somebody is hurt and they might rest a little bit, but as long as they’re healthy, we’re going to put the guys out there to give us the best chance to win.”
Newton more productive
Catcher Ben Newton has boosted his batting average to .300 with a recent tear.
“He’s really been a glue guy for us this year,” said Godwin, a catcher for the Pirates in his playing days. “I didn’t say this publicly when it happened, but his grandmother passed away, and he’s from Colorado, the end of the weekend of the VCU series. So he actually flew home Sunday morning, early, missed the third game of VCU, and then missed the Tuesday game (vs. N.C. State). And we didn’t catch the baseball well those two games. We lost those two games on Sunday and Tuesday again,
“That’s another example of just this team having to battle through adversity. Since he’s been back, has been tremendous. I mean, the reason our pitching staff, one of the biggest reasons is, because Ben Newton’s back there. And he communicates with Coach (Austin) Knight (pitching coach), and he communicates with the pitchers. He receives the ball extremely well, blocks the ball extremely well. And now he’s having really competitive at-bats and worked really hard last week on slowing his feet down and just seeing the baseball better. And he had a great weekend offensively this weekend. He’s a good player. Just glad he’s on our side.”
Freshman right-hander Jake Hunter threw five and one-third no-hit innings in his start against USF on Sunday.
“He’s done a really good job, and it’s amazing,” Godwin said. “Early on, I think the first couple weekends he was good. Then he wasn’t good. We put him in the bullpen, and he’s worked hard with Coach Knight. He’s also worked hard with the strength coach, Coach (Dennis) Wilson, with his diet and just shaping his body up. And I think that has allowed him to repeat his delivery more and have more self-confidence. … The fruits of the labor are showing up, and we just need them to stay the course and keep working hard.”
The Pirates start play in the conference tournament on Tuesday. ECU has never won the AAC regular-season title and league tournament in the same season.
“We’ve never done it both in the same year,” Godwin said. “That’s one thing we haven’t accomplished here. We’ve never won the regular season and the tournament in the same year.
“It’s Clearwater, Florida, which in my opinion, everybody should go down there for vacation on Memorial Day week and pack the place. I would say we have probably the most fans that go down there, and I think it continues to grow every year that we go down there. I think COVID probably put a little dent into it, obviously, but I like the setup. It’s not a home field advantage for anybody unless we’re playing. I feel like it’s a pretty good Pirate crowd there.”
ECI is 20-8 at home this season and 15-10 on the road.
“Playing so many road games early on definitely made us tougher,” Godwin said. “When we weren’t winning some of those games, I think just having to go on the road, continue to just grind, I think it’s made us a lot more confident down the stretch.”
Return to polls
ECU’s winning streak has the Pirates back in the polls at No. 21 in the Collegiate Baseball rankings.
“It’s good for fans, but hopefully our guys don’t get comfortable,” Godwin said. “We need to continue to try to get better and continue to play our best baseball down the stretch.”