On Feb. 20 when East Carolina had been swept at home in a season-opening, three-game series with Bryant and Texas was ranked No. 1 nationally, it would have seemed astronomically unlikely that the Pirates would have hosted the Longhorns in a Super Regional in June.
“It was very rough at the beginning, and I just appreciate our guys and our staff, just continued to show up every day and I said this a lot publicly, but the most selfless, tough team that we’ve been a part of here at East Carolina, probably in my entire life,” said ECU coach Cliff Godwin. “Just not conventional with the pitching, but just whoever started the game didn’t care if they were going one or two innings and didn’t care who it was, and just kept passing the ball.
“And our position players came together and didn’t care who was starting and just wanted to try to do anything they could to win the game. So, so proud of them.”
From the humbling start, the Pirates went 46-21, dominated the American Athletic Conference and received a No. 8 national seeding for the NCAA Tournament.
“We won the regular season,” said Godwin. “We won the conference tournament. We hosted a regional and won it and hosted the first super regional on campus. And we’re really close to going to the College World Series. And there’s never been a time where ECU baseball has hosted four regionals in a row and then, of course, won three regionals in a row. So, it’s a great time to be a Pirate. And I’m just so proud of our guys and our staff for all the hard work they put in.”
Twenty Pirates from the 2022 team will be playing in six different summer leagues. Others will use the summer months to rest and recover from the rigors of the campaign just completed.
“Every individual’s different,” Godwin said. “Lane Hoover’s not going to go play summer ball. Carter Spivey, Garrett Saylor, (C.J.) Mayhue just because of their workload. (Jacob) Starling’s not going to play summer ball because he’s still trying to get back to 100 percent after he broke his leg last summer.
“And then you got guys that were young. I mean, like Ryan McCrystal, Merritt Beeker, Erik Ritchie, Luke Nowak, Jordan Little, I’m just naming a few. Danny Beal is pitching. But they need to go get at-bats. And so, they’re playing summer baseball and that’s the time where they can get out there and play every day and just continue to work on their skill when it’s a big development piece, for sure, for our program.”
Bakich coaching Clemson
Former ECU left fielder Erik Bakich was named coach at Clemson after guiding Michigan to unprecedented success over 10 seasons. Bakich was a teammate of Godwin’s when the late Keith LeClair was coaching the Pirates.
Godwin was asked if Clemson would be an addition to the schedule.
“I would think they would probably want to come up here for the Keith LeClair tournament at times,” Godwin said. “But look, he’s got so much going on right now. I mean, you got a better chance to get in touch with the president than Erik Bakich. I know how he feels because anytime you take over a new program, it’s just a lot going on.”
Versatile Ryder Giles has entered the transfer portal following his junior season.
“Ryder and I met,” Godwin said. “Ryder and I have still been communicating. We texted back and forth on Monday. … I met with him on Tuesday after we had lost in the Super Regional and you could tell something was on his mind and we just talked.
“I said, ‘Look, I want you to do what’s best for you. You’ve been a great teammate, a great player in our program, but if your heart’s pulling you somewhere else then I want you to do what’s best for you. But go home, talk to your parents. We’d love to have you back if that’s what you want, but don’t come back because I’m twisting your arm.’
“He went home, talked to his parents and made the decision next day that he was going to go into the transfer portal. And I told him, I’d wish him the best as long as, hey, they’re not, where he goes it’s not playing the Pirates. I’ll pull for him wherever he is because he’s a great human being and he’s been a great asset to us. So, I wanted to do everything I could to help him out.”
Left-hander Carson Whisenhunt was expected to be the ace of the ECU staff in 2022 but a suspension for performance enhancing drugs put him out of action.
Whisenhunt could pitch for the Pirates next season, but it’s not likely.
“There’s a small chance, but I feel pretty confidently that there’s going to be a team out there that takes him high (in the MLB draft, July 17) from the information I’m gathering. Carson and I spoke this week and just checked on him, but yeah, I don’t see him coming back.
“He’s considered one of the top prospects in the country, so I don’t see how that doesn’t happen for him.”
Ben Newton emerged as the starting catcher in his senior season, a year after Seth Cadell had started the bulk of the games behind the plate.
A catcher in his playing days, Godwin talked about the personnel at that vital position.
We’ve got two guys that are in our program already that are super talented. Ryan McCrystal and Justin Wilcoxen and then we’ve got a freshman coming in, Nick Delisi, who’s really good. So, we feel really confident that we’re going to have some depth back there and have a lot of different options back there.”
Recruiting essentially is completed for players who will join the Pirates next season
“We’re done for this year, unless something crazy happens in the draft, which I feel pretty good where we are right now.”
But the process continues for prospective players in the future.
“You’re working two, three, four years out,” Godwin said. “There’s different needs in each class when you look at it, but it’s a very dynamic deal especially with this portal. I mean, it’s just crazy. So, we’re looking for really good players that are great people that can help us win championships and do it the right way.”
The Pirates narrowly missed the College World Series this year, but Godwin has had some interest from afar.
“I followed it some,” said Godwin on Thursday morning. “Look, I’m not, everybody’s like, did I watch? I watched a little bit of the Texas stuff and of course I watch every Ole Miss game and pull for those guys. So, I’ll be locked in again today, when they play at four.”
Godwin was an assistant at Ole Miss before returning to his alma mater as coach after the 2014 season.
Presumably, he saw the Rebels top Arkansas, 2-0, for a berth against Oklahoma in the final best-of-three series, which starts Saturday (ESPN, 7 p.m.).