East Carolina baseball coach Cliff Godwin has relinquished some responsibilities as the Pirates move toward the 2024 season.
“We hired a new hitting and catching coach, Henri Lartigue,” Godwin said recently during an offseason break. “So that is our addition to the coaching staff.”
The Pirates were 47-19 in 2023, winning the regular season championship in the American Athletic Conference and finishing second to host Virginia in NCAA regional play.
“I was trying to transition last year a little bit out of that, me being the lead hitting coach just because there’s a lot of hats that you’ve got to wear as the head coach, and also developing people within your organization,” Godwin said. “I think that’s a big thing. I’m still involved, but I’m more of an assistant hitting coach …
“Henri Lartigue has done a great job , and he’s our hitting coach and catching coach. And then Bryant Packard is our student assistant. He’s finishing up his degree after professional baseball and he wants to get into coaching, so he’ll be our student assistant this entire year and he’s helping a lot with the hitters and the outfielders as well.”
Big dates ahead of opener
ECU opens the series with a home series with Rider that starts on Feb. 16.
The first team practice will be Jan. 26. A preseason banquet on Jan. 27 at the student center on campus is already sold out.
“It has been there for, I think, the past five years,” Godwin said. “It’s an awesome venue and it’s just on East Carolina’s campus and they give us a good deal and this is all about raising money for our players.
“When I say players, for anything they need from a pitching machine, track man, any kind of stuff that we need money-wise to help with funding our program. All that money goes to help our players, to help them perform at a high level.”
Pirates make grades
Godwin, an academic All-American as a player at ECU, continues to supervise a program that achieves in the classroom.
“We’ve had a 3.4 (grade point average) or higher for six straight years, so pretty sure we’ll be able to continue that on after this semester,” Godwin said. “They’re getting ready to start exams. … It was a 3.52 in the spring and we’ve had, like I said, a 3.4 or higher for six straight years.
“The guys have done a really good job.”
Serving the community
Community service is also a trademark of ECU baseball.
“We’ve done different things from Mustache March (proceeds support ALS research) to Carter Cunningham’s organizing a group to go over to the children’s hospital and give them some gifts and make some kids smile. Our guys are always looking for an opportunity to give something back to our community.”
The field for the annual Keith LeClair Classic in Greenville, March 1-3, includes Purdue, Cal State-Fullerton and Southeastern Louisiana.
“We’ve got a really good field,” Godwin said. “We always try to bring in quality opponents. Those will be really three really good teams and I know Coach LeClair will be proud we’re playing good competition.”
Former ECU pitching coach Jason Dietrich is the head coach at Cal State-Fullerton.
The Pirates had scrimmages with Clemson and Virginia as well as the Purple-Gold World Series during fall practice.
“We got better,” Godwin said. “We had some guys that were actually nicked up a little bit, some older guys, so it gave some younger guys some opportunities to go out there and play against different teams, whether it be Clemson, UVA.
“We play against ourselves a lot, but I like the trajectory of where our team’s going. I like our leadership amongst our team, so we feel good about it. But we got a lot of work to do between now and the first day of official team practice and we just need to continue to focus on trying to get a little bit better each day.”
Potential weekend rotation
Trey Yesavage and left-hander Zach Root appear to be likely weekend starters for ECU, but there are a lot of arms in the competition for a spot in the weekend rotation.’
‘You’ve got a slew of guys that could be in there on a Sunday role,” Godwin said “Our one-two punch, however it matches up, is going to be as good as anybody in the country. Those guys have done a really good job, Trey and Zach. Just going off the top of my head, I mean Jake Hunter could be in that mix. Chris Kahler could be in that mix. Erik Ritchie could be in that mix. (Wyatt Lunsford-) Shenkman could be in that mix. Danny Beal is a swing guy. I mean most likely he’ll be out of the bullpen, but he could be in that mix and I’m probably leaving somebody out.
“Ethan Norby, who’s a freshman, possibly could be in that mix if he keeps getting better. But it’s real early and I think that because Trey and Zach have performed at a high level in our program already, it’s easy for those guys. Not that some of our older guys haven’t, but we’re going to, especially early in the season, make sure we have a good solid bullpen and then as guys’ pitch counts go up with Trey and Zach and whoever else is in that Sunday, then we can maybe figure out who’s going to be our midweek starter.
“All that good stuff. But I would, like I told you, Trey and Root are going to be frontliners in that rotation and then we’ll go from there.”
The Pirates have a good returning nucleus among position players. There is some depth at catcher, where Godwin played..
“No. 1, you’ve got a lot of older guys behind the plate,” said Godwin, who will be entering his 10th season at the helm of the Pirate ship. “You’ve got Justin Wilcoxen and you’ve got Ryan McCrystal. Both did a really good job behind the plate defensively. J-Dub was not able to swing this fall. He had a wrist injury, which he’ll be ready to go in the spring. He could catch, couldn’t hit. Ryan got a lot better behind the plate.
“At third base, Dixon Williams, which he can play anywhere on the field. He played some third. He played some short, played center. He pretty much can play anywhere on the field. Nate Chrismon, who can really play anywhere on the infield as well, was nagged by a hamstring, but he can play anywhere. Chaz Myers, who is a transfer from Pacific, really swung the bat well for us, but I’m not real sure what position he’s going to play on the infield or if it’ll be a DH (designated hitter)-first base situation. So we will continue to see how that evolves.
“Joey Berini is even a little bit better than he was last year. Better defender, more range, swung the bat like he normally does this fall. Jacob Starling had a great fall. One of his best attributes was he just showed up every day and practiced his tail off like he was trying to make the team and just did a great job.
“At first, you’ve got Carter Cunningham who had a great fall. You’ve got Colby Wallace who played more third in the fall. He is a freshman, but he’s going to pitch a little bit for us in the spring, so we’ll probably have him more, at first, at least to start with. Cam Clonch. Like I said, Chaz Myers could go over there as well, so that’s kind of the infield core.
“In the outfield, it’s going to be very competitive. You’ve got Jacob Jenkins-Cowart who had a really good ending to his fall and has continued to mature and get back to his self as he was as a freshman. You’ve got Ryley Johnson who was hurt this fall, who can play all three. Bristol Carter had a really good fall as a freshman, played a lot of center field. And then in left field you’ve got Luke Nowak who played really good this fall and did a good job for us. And also Carter Cunningham can go out there, so position player wise, it’ll be very competitive and deep. We’ve just got to continue to work hard and put the guys in the necessary roles for us to be successful.”
The Pirates seem to always have first-year players who make an impact.
“I thought Chaz Myers, he just swung the bat as good as anybody on our team,” Godwin said. “He was nagged by a quad injury, but he swung the bat really good for a recruit. Bristol, who is a freshman, had a really good fall. Colby Wallace, for a freshman, had a really good fall. Walker Barron, who’s a freshman catcher, had a good beginning to the fall and then kind of lost some confidence and we’re building him back up.
“There’s other guys I mentioned, Ethan Norby, who’s a freshman, and then some of the transfer arms. You’ve got Chris Kahler who pitched solid. You’ve got Drew Bryan who pitched good. Aaron Groller showed flashes of helping us out. And we’ve got some freshman arms that have talent, and we need them to just keep coming a little bit and kind of spoon-feed them. Run them out there and give them some confidence and just watch that confidence grow so they can help us out later on in the season.
“One guy I mentioned, a returner who pitched a lot this summer, but had a good beginning to the fall, Jaden Winter, in the bullpen and he’s going to help us big time as well, so we’re excited. We got a lot of pieces. We just got to figure out where those pieces go. And it’s obviously early for baseball and everything changes and you have injuries and all that good stuff, so we’re just trying to get a little bit better every day.”
Norby, incidentally, is the younger brother of former Pirate standout Connor Norby.
“He’s a left-handed pitcher and is really mature to be a freshman,” Godwin said.
Kahler is a promising transfer.
“He is,” Godwin said. “From George Washington. He actually pitched against us last year opening a weekend for George Washington.”
As in other sports, revenue from Name, Image, Likeness is a factor in baseball.
“It’s affected us,” Godwin said. “I would say that it’s definitely new for us and we’re learning every day how to navigate it. I’m not totally against NIL for our returners. Look, I want to help out guys that have given to our program, who’ve done it the right way, who have done well in the classroom.
“I’m not the coach that’s going to go offer a recruit money, which I just keep going back to this by the letter of the law that’s illegal, but everybody does it, but that’s not what we’re going to use it for. We’re going to use it for retention. And I’ve just tried to educate our returners to pass that on to the younger guys that if you come here and you do things at the level that we need you to do them, where that’s playing, or making great grades, or working your tail off.
“It means something to me to wear the purple and gold and it means something to our players that are in that locker room. And we got to make sure that we’re bringing in the right people, whether it’s a transfer portal guy or it’s a recruit. This place is much bigger than any individual, and that’s the way it’ll always be run as long as I’m the head coach here.
“When people put the entire emphasis on NIL, hey, if I don’t have this certain amount of money, we can’t be successful. That’s BS to me. And I don’t believe in that because we have guys on our team that could have gone to other programs and maybe made more money, but they believe in our coaches, they believe in their teammates, they believe in what we do here. And we don’t just win baseball games. We’re making people better people. And it’s not just because of me, it’s because of our staff, and because of the young men that we’re bringing in here. And that’s always going to be at the forefront for us. So we’ll use NIL, we’ll use the portal as it is necessary to benefit our program, but it’s not going to be the end all, be all like some people make it.”
Godwin was asked about the source of NIL funds at ECU.
“The Boneyard Collective is advertised as for every sport, but really it’s mostly for football and basketball,” Godwin said. “We do have some funds that come through there, but it’s a small percentage. And then we have donors that just give directly to our players that they go out and do stuff for.
“We’re in the early stages of working on something to help, not that it’ll be a different collective, but kind of a one-stop shop where people can give just to baseball because it just will allow a person to understand exactly what’s coming in and who’s it going to at one place instead of it coming from a lot of different buckets. … We just need it streamlined into one bucket.”
The membership in the AAC has changed significantly with Central Florida, Cincinnati and Houston leaving for the Big 12. New teams include Alabama-Birmingham, Charlotte, Florida Atlantic, North Texas, Rice and Texas-San Antonio.
“They’re quality teams,” Godwin said. “I worry about us. It’s always been that way. … Worry about yourself, worry about your players, worry about your coaches. … If you’re trying to play up for an in-state rival and you’re taking that game bigger than you’re taking a conference game, then you’re going to play at different levels when you just want to play your best baseball. … If you do that, you’re going to win more games than you lose. And that’s what our focus is each and every day.”