History had probably taught East Carolina baseball coach Cliff Godwin not to be too optimistic as brackets were announced Monday for the NCAA baseball tournament.
There were some hiccups before the Pirates put together an 18-game winning streak that produced American Athletic Conference regular-season and tournament championships in 2022.
ECU players admitted that it took a moment for a No. 8 national seeding to sink in when it appeared on ESPN2.
Godwin talked about his reaction.
“Just excited,” said the eighth-year Pirates coach and ECU alumnus. “I mean, I thought we should have been a national seed in 2019 and we weren’t. I thought our body of work was really good. I knew there was an outside shot going into it, but you just never know what the committee’s going to decide. I mean, it’s a group of people and they do a great job, but their decisions dictate who are in the national seeds and who are not. But I’m super proud for our group this year to be able to get that, that’s a big deal.”
The seeding validates the Pirates’ highest preseason ranking, which was No. 8 by Collegiate Baseball.
ECU worked out from 10 to 11:15 on Thursday morning and Godwin gave a thumbs up.
“Yeah,” he said. “Great. I mean, our guys showed up, did exactly what they needed to do. It was upbeat, a lot of energy. It was awesome.”
The Pirates (42-18) open the regional against fourth-seeded Coppin State (24-28), champions of the MEAC Tournament, today at 1 p.m. at Clark-LeClair Stadium (ESPN+).
“We’re going into it just as if we were just playing another game,” Godwin said Thursday. “This group, that’s what they’ve done, a really good job of this for the past few months. And it’s not just the winning streak.
“The past few months they’ve enjoyed being around one another, playing for one another. They don’t care who gets the credit. It’s really been fun for me to sit back and watch and just, you talk about team selfless baseball. They’ve done an awesome job of that.”
An AAC first
No team had won the regular season and the tournament in the AAC in the same season before the Pirates finished an efficient run at BayCare Ballpark in Clearwater, FL, with a 6-1 win over Houston on Sunday.
“Our guys, just like I said, they just continued to show up every day and they were hungry and, yeah, we talked about it, but we didn’t change anything the way we were doing,” Godwin said. “We just said, ‘Hey, it had never been done before.’ Not just at East Carolina, never been done in the American Athletic Conference history.
“So, they just kept showing up doing what they needed to do. And when we got down, they just kept playing. So, like I said, they’ve done a really good job of just continuing to show up and enjoy being around one another and not a lot has phased them over the past couple months.”
Godwin maintained belief
Godwin was named AAC Coach of the Year for the fourth time before the league tournament. He kept faith in his team during a challenging start to the season.
“People from the outside have no idea what goes on the inside every single day,” Godwin said. “And they just had to maneuver through a lot of adversity, some publicly, some not. We had a really tough schedule. We played a lot of road games and I just kept telling them, ‘If we can keep our head above water, you guys are going to be tough as leather when it comes down the stretch.’
“And that made us what we are today, is a group that just stuck together when they were handed a lot of adversity. And they just put one foot in front of the other.”
Godwin said there are lessons to be learned about ECU’s ascent during the current season.
“When we won the regular season, I brought them together and told them that in real life, one day when they get older, everything around them, it’s going to seem like it’s falling apart,” Godwin said. “You’ve got to put one foot in front of the other and take what we have done this year into your real life. And I want you to remember that.
“And I hope they can take that because that is real life. There’s going to be times when stuff just feels like it’s falling apart all around you, and you just got to keep putting one foot in front of the other and just keep grinding. And that’s what our guys have done this year.”
Sophomore right-hander Josh Grosz is scheduled to start for the Pirates today. Grosz (4-5) has a 5.88 earned run average.
Grosz tossed three and two-thirds innings on Sunday. He allowed three hits and one earned run with no walks and three strikeouts.
Godwin said the Pirates have been in playoff mode for an extended period.
“It’s playoff baseball,” Godwin said. “And we’ve been in playoff baseball for about two months now. I mean every game was playoff baseball for us. When you’re 14-13, I mean, you’ve got to put a lot of good quality work together to get where we are today. So, I’m really not worried about this team taking somebody lightly because I know that they’ll be ready to play.”
Coppin State is expected to send two-way standout Jordan Hamberg (6-2, 4.04 ERA) to the mound. Hamberg is hitting .344 with eight homers and 34 RBIs.
‘He’s left-handed,” Godwin said. “He’s got a good fast ball, good breaking ball. He’s their ace. So we’ll have our hands full.”
The Pirates will be playing at home, a significant factor. ECU is 23-8 at Clark-LeClair this season. The home field advantage has boosted the Pirates in past regionals..
“It’s one of the best (home field advantages) in the country, if not the best,” Godwin said. “You take the number of people. I mean, it’s going to be 6,000, at least close to it — I know they won’t announce that number — of Pirate fans with a ton of energy. I want our guys to enjoy it when they’re on the field tomorrow, because that is a big deal.
“It doesn’t happen everywhere. I mean, we’ve hosted four straight regionals. Only one other program in the entire country that’s done that, and that’s Stanford. So we are in rarefied air as (athletic director) Jon Gilbert said, and I’m just so happy for our university and so happy for our baseball program that we’ve been able to do that. And for our fans, because it’s really a neat deal when our fans come out and it’s like a ball game for baseball. It’s really exciting.”
Virginia (38-17), the No. 2 regional seed, plays third-seeded Coastal Carolina (36-18-1) today at 6 p.m.
The Cavaliers won the College World Series in 2015 and the Chanticleers took the CWS title the following year.
“They’re really quality programs,” Godwin said. “And I haven’t looked at any of their stuff. We’re worried about Coppin State, and if we’re lucky enough to get by them, then we’ll worry about the next team that we play.”
One forecast is showing a 60 percent chance of rain in Greenville at 3 p.m. today.
Godwin’s willingness to go to the bullpen this season might bode well in a weather delay, as opposed to years when the Pirates have been dependent on lengthy stints from starters.
“We’ll be fine with whatever is thrown our way,” Godwin said. “We just need to keep doing what we’re doing. I mean, that’s what we need to do. We need to treat it like every game that we’ve played the past few months. That’s what we need to do.”