George Washington was once described as “first in war, first in peace and first in the hearts of his countrymen.”
The university named for the first president and based in Washington, D.C., sends its baseball team to East Carolina this evening for the 2023 season opener at 6 p.m. at Clark-LeClair Stadium.
The Colonials will hardly be first in the hearts of the fans at Clark-LeClair Stadium. First games can be deceptive as the Pirates proved in 2022.
Things got better, of course, much better as ECU regrouped to go 46-21. The Pirates won regular season and tournament championships in the American Athletic Conference for the first time.
There was a school record 20-game winning streak that ended with a 9-1 loss to Coastal Carolina in the Greenville regional. ECU bounced back to down the Chanticleers, 13-4, in the regional final.
ECU hosted a Super Regional for the first time, throwing a scare into Texas by winning the first game, 13-7.
ECU has been picked to win the AAC again. Perhaps the Pirates can avoid a stumble out of the gate.
Coach Cliff Godwin sounded confident on Thursday.
“I think our guys are ready,” Godwin said. “I wouldn’t have told you that last year. … But they’re ready to go.”
ECU is ranked No. 11 in the DI Baseball preseason poll.
Talented nucleus returns
Senior right-hander Carter Spivey will get the start for the Pirates this evening. Spivey was the AAC Pitcher of the Year last season, going 8-0 with a 2.83 earned run average.
Jacob Jenkins-Cowart is back for his sophomore season after hitting .330 with a team-high 65 RBIs.
Lane Hoover, who led the Pirates in hitting in 2022 with a .341 average, returns. Alec Makrewicz, Josh Moylan and Cam Clonch are all proven hitters with some pop.
Following Spivey in starting roles this weekend will be sophomore right-hander Trey Yesavage on Saturday and junior right-hander Josh Grosz on Sunday.
Garrett Saylor will be counted on in the bullpen after compiling a 6-3 record last season.
The Pirates made adjustments with their weekend rotation last year and there is sufficient depth again to allow some tweaks.
The Colonials are coming off a 22-30 season that included a 10-14 record in the Atlantic-10 Conference.
George Washington has been picked 10th among 12 teams in the A-10 coaches poll for this season.
The top returning hitter is Steve DiTomaso who had a .332 average with 11 doubles, three triples, six home runs and eight stolen bases last year.
ECU has an 11-3 lead in the series, which has been dormant since 2000.
The visitors appear to be saving their top arm, righty Austin Odell (8-2, 3.82 ERA in 2022), for Sunday.
Starting times, next up
The teams meet at 2 p.m. on Saturday and at 1 p.m. on Sunday.
The series with GW is scheduled to be shown on ESPN+.
The Pirates travel to Campbell on Tuesday for a first pitch at 5 p.m.
North Carolina will be the opponent next weekend with games in Greenville on Friday at 5 p.m. and Saturday at 2 p.m. before a matchup in Chapel Hill on Sunday at 1 p.m.
ECU will play again in the Triangle with a game at Duke on Tuesday, Feb. 28, at 4 p.m.
Godwin, who enters his ninth season as coach at his alma mater, said Joey Berini will start at shortstop, where Zach Agnos and Ryder Giles played last year.
Jacob Starling returns at second base, where he made 47 starts last season.
Godwin alluded to the value of fan support.
The Pirates ranked 14th nationally in total attendance last season and were 18th in average attendance.
A crowd of 5,807 for the second game of the Super Regional set a stadium record.