Dr. Gary Overton brought baseball coach Cliff Godwin into the program at East Carolina as a player and had a record 427 wins as coach of the Pirates from 1985 to 1997. Overton continues to serve ECU as assistant athletic director/game operations-facilities.
Overton also has been an analyst on the Pirate radio baseball broadcasts for 18 years. “Coach O” has seen ECU develop during the 2022 season to become a team that takes a 14-game winning streak into the American Athletic Conference tournament today in Clearwater, FL.
Godwin was named AAC Coach of the Year for the fourth time on Monday.
“In the early part of the season, Cliff Godwin kept telling everyone,” Overton said. “He told us, he told the fans, the media, he said, ‘I still feel good about this team. It’s a team that, it will show you its best baseball later. And as we all know, that’s what has transpired. It took a little while, I’m sure he would say the same, to find the right pieces. There’ve been a couple of constants all year, Hoover, Lane Hoover, who has been probably the steadiest player, and Zach Agnos, who certainly has been good all year. He’s been better even the latter half of the year.
“Outside of that, once they inserted Jacob Jenkins-Cowart, a freshman, in the lineup, I think it was about that time that the offense started coming around. And that was probably, I’ll say, maybe five weeks into the season. And as that offense started gelling, more and more pieces actually followed. We mentioned (Alec) Makarewicz, who has… And there have been parts of the season where he probably didn’t swing it as good as he did others. But for the most part, he’s really had a very good offensive year. But once Jenkins-Cowart was inserted in the lineup, I just think that changed things.
“And then Ben Newton took the catching position and ran. And interesting part of his game is that he admits that he was thought of as a defensive catcher. And probably that was the reason why he was playing because he was, of the three, the most experienced and the better defensive catcher. But then his bat started coming around. And offensively, as the team jelled, the same was transpiring on the mound. We all know that it’s been hard, although (C.J.) Mayhue has had a couple of really good outings as a starter. It’s interesting that the bullpen all year has been good, but as the year has progressed, it’s even gotten better.
“Carter Spivey, just remarkable his turnaround from his first couple of years. And with really good stuff. A freshman, Trey Yesavage. And the guy that really got it all started was (Garrett) Saylor. Earlier in the year, started game one of the year, and yet it just didn’t pan out as a starter. But once he went to a bullpen role and assumed the leader of that staff early on, that bullpen really solidified itself.
“And of late, I’ll say in the last, maybe four, three, four or five weeks, Ben Terwilliger may just be … solidifying the role of closer. He has shut down some games late. But all of this has been not a slow development. It’s been a very fun development to watch over the course of the season. And I think, yeah, that’s where they have evolved from and to, at this point.”
Recruiting Cliff Godwin
“Cliff was a multi-sport athlete at Greene Central,” Overton said. “And I think any coach would tell you that they really like players who excel in more than one sport, and Cliff was a very good player. Maybe not what would be called a great one, but a really good player. And yet, no one was recruiting him in any of the three sports. I’m sure that he had interests from a lot of schools, but no one was coming forth with offers or so forth. As we saw him play and liked more and more of what we saw, I was approached by his high school coach, James Fulghum, and just asked me to stay with the recruitment of Cliff and to stay on top of it and see if there was some way that we could find room for him.
“In the end, we did make an offer to Cliff. He signed with us. And as he came to us, I’ll not forget Coach Fulghum saying to me, he said it might be even in the best interest of the young man and East Carolina University that he red shirt for a year and move forward. And as he got into the program, he did play behind a more experienced catcher at that particular point. When he first came, it was actually Tim Flaherty. And later, was Clayton McCullough. But playing behind Tim, who had two years of experience, and eventually was drafted and played in the San Francisco organization.
“Cliff, we red-shirted him the first year. And, of course, Keith LeClair took over after that year, and Cliff had a very stellar career. His next four years, which led into his fifth year of school, was really good. But yeah, I’m very proud to say that I was a part of bringing him to East Carolina and that he fit well into the Pirates program. Not only when I was coaching, but especially during his playing days when Keith was coaching, Keith LeClair.”
NCAA Tournament selections
Overton has served on the NCAA Tournament selection committee and is a member of the NCAA baseball rules committee. The Pirates will learn their position in the NCAA bracket after the AAC Tournament.
“Very little has changed,” Overton said of the NCAA selection process. “The only thing that has changed over those few years has been the committee faces, or names and faces. All committees are a little different. The human side of making selections are all different as to, again, who sits. But the process and the metrics that are used, particularly the RPI system, really is very much the same back then as it is today.”
It remains to be seen how ECU can help itself for NCAA Tournament seeding in the AAC event this week.
“The answer starts a few weeks back when we were all wondering … were the Pirates even going to get into the NCAA tournament.” Overton said. “Well, regardless of the seed, did they have a chance to extend their postseason play after the conference tournament? And over the last three to four weeks, their progress, as we all know, is remarkable. Right now, the Pirates are sitting on a 14-game winning streak. And, to answer your question, should the Pirates continue winning and go through this tournament…
“We could say that they ran away with the conference regular season. And I think they proved throughout the season that they were the best team in the league. And I made a comment earlier today, I think most all the clubs, even here, when you talk to people involved with each of these teams, they make it readily known that East Carolina is the better club in this tournament. But what they could do, if they could continue winning through this, I think they’ve gotten to the point now where they are a very good number two seed in the selection process.
“With that in mind, at each win that they continue with just carries that momentum into NCAA and further postseason play. With that momentum, they, all of a sudden, become a team that, not as a dark horse to go really far, but maybe a team that I think all writers across the country might say, ‘That’s a team to keep your eye on,’ while teams that would be playing against them would say, ‘We don’t want that team in our tournament.’ And when you start gaining that reputation and the confidence level that the Pirates have right now with 14 wins, it’s something that could carry the Pirates a good way, a really good way.”
The Pirates (38-18, 20-4 AAC) open the conference tournament against South Florida (28-27, 8-16) today at 12:30 p.m. at Bright House Field.
“I’m not sure playing in their backyard is that much of, or really even, any advantage at all,” Overton said. “I’ll tell you what we do need to focus on, all of us. … Let’s go back one year. Exactly one year ago, the Pirates clinched the regular season title, playing at South Florida in the last weekend of the season. And after the Pirates clinched, what happened for the next two weeks was really phenomenal for South Florida. They finished, not just in the lower division of the league, but near the bottom.
“And they then beat the Pirates twice after the Pirates clinched, and went through this conference tournament beating Central Florida for the title. What we all learned out of that was something that, as we were leaving the last weekend, or the series, that turned out to be the last weekend of the year prior to that tournament, as we were leaving, I heard people say this South Florida team is better than most people think. Well, as we all know, they had three, four really good hitters in the lineup. A couple pitchers had evolved to become not only good starters, but quality starters.
“Winning this tournament, they went into NCAA play, won the regional at Florida. Also in that regional was Miami and Florida, and a really good South Alabama team. Really good. And South Florida ends up winning that. Going to a super regional at Texas and taking them to extra innings in game one of the super regional. And people, we all knew that South Florida was a very good program. The expectations were high this year coming in and injuries pretty much depleted that. But at the same time, there’re players on that field that the Pirates will see tomorrow, as they have in the regular season. But there’re players on the field that have tasted winning a conference tournament, winning a regional and playing very well in a super regional. So, teams like that are dangerous.”
Doing commentary on the radio comes naturally for Overton as an extension of his passion for ECU baseball.
“First of all, just being a part of the Pirate program as an analyst on the radio network, I think anyone would say just being a part of it in some way, shape or form is so special because of what Pirate baseball means to me and to all of the fans, in general,” Overton said. “But to be able to connect with the fans, it’s a very special thing. And anytime someone leaves the game, it’s so very hard that the game is still in those individuals. It’s so very hard to put it down. So when I had the opportunity to go back in, on the radio, and that’s been quite a while now. That’s been, let’s see, 18 years now.
“And when I had a chance to go back onto the network, actually, I joined Jeff Charles to begin. And that in itself was a treat, just being able to work with what we all consider the best in the business. And again, connecting with the Pirate Nation, being able to speak with them and to them through what I see, just bringing the game into their homes and into them as a fan base is very, very special. And it means a lot just because it is the ECU Pirates.”
Overton has been working with a new play-by-play voice this season.
“Scott Rogers came to us this year, and a young guy with experience. He actually has done some broadcast. He’s done a lot of public address work on the collegiate level, as well as the high school level. And yet, still as a student, again, all of this at a young age. But what he brings is knowledge of the game, understanding of the game, and a real strong, willing desire to learn even more. All of that is secondary to the fact that what he really is, is a passionate Pirate. And when he calls a game and when he calls a winning play or a play that changes the game or something that’s in favor on the Pirate side … I’ll give you an example, hypothetically, is the win over Houston, just on Sunday in the 10th inning.
“It was a walk-off, infield single by Bryson Worrell. And when he calls that, the excitement level in him, just, I think, reaches out to the Pirate Nation, just to let them know how much that particular win meet means to him. So, yeah, he’s very knowledgeable and he understands the game really, really well and wants to even learn more. But what’s so important is his passion of working for ECU.”
Overton talked about the impetus that a 14-game winning streak gives ECU.
“Actually saw them practice (Monday), and the enthusiasm is high,” Overton said. “But what they bring into this conference, it’s easy to say momentum, just because they’ve won 14 times in a row, but they bring a lot of confidence. The Pirates have won some games where they were behind late. They’ve won some games they were behind early. They’ve come from behind in not a large number of times, but they’ve come from behind in different ways.
“And each time, it makes the Pirates feel, individually, not just collectively as a team, but individually that they’re not supposed to lose. And any team that feels like it’s going to win is dangerous. We know that. We all know that. And this is a club that just brings that level of play to the game, man. And again, I think one time I asked Cliff on air after the game, ‘Is this not a club that doesn’t just expect to win, but knows that it will win, regardless of how far behind or what the situation is in the game when they are behind.'”
Overton likes Clearwater as the site of the AAC Tournament.
“It is the spring training site of the Philadelphia Phillies and it not only gives players, and I speak for the players, not really from a fan standpoint, but for the players, it is, well, obviously, it’s a beach city and there’s a little aura to that, but it gives, them a feel of pro ball and it even gives them a feel of major league baseball.
“I’m sure, like myself, when they were standing on the field today, they probably thought of the many pro players that, of course, they’re much younger than I am and they would think of much younger players. We think of players in the ’70s and ’80s. But when you think back of those people who have played on that same field, it’s good for the players. It’s really good for their feeling of the game and as to where they want to go after they leave here.”