View from the East
Friday, February 19, 2016

By Al Myatt

Al Myatt

Outlook is sunny for Pirates in '16

ECU baseball coach Cliff Godwin looks on from the third base box in last year's season opener with Virginia. The game marked Godwin's first as head coach at his alma mater. His team went on to a 40-win season, an American Athletic Conference championship and an NCAA regional appearance. (Photo by W.A. Myatt)

Next: Longwood at ECU

Friday 4 pm/Sat. 2 pm/Sun. 1 pm

View full schedule on



Pirates primed for encore and more

Ol' Gomer Pyle would have smiled from ear to ear and hollered out: “Surprise, surprise, surprise!”

That's how East Carolina's baseball team celebrated its 2015 American Athletic Conference championship last season. Nobody expected the Pirates, with a first-year coach, to post 40 victories and walk off with the league's top trophy. ... More from Woody Peele...

Pictured: Projected opening day starter Evan Kruczynski deals last season in a solid performance against No. 2 Virginia. The junior lefthander posted an 8-4 record with a 3.17 ERA in 2015. (Photo by W.A. Myatt)

Next: Longwood at East Carolina | Friday, 4 pm



Pirates fall to South Florida

GREENVILLE — South Florida had a 13-2 run Tuesday night after East Carolina had taken an initial 5-0 lead and the Bulls went on to a 69-52 American Athletic Conference win in Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum. ... More...

Next: ECU at SMU | Sunday | 2 pm | TV: ESPNN



Snow signals baseball season

Ice and snow… Freezing temperatures… Welcome to baseball season at East Carolina! The Pirates opened game week on Monday with freezing rain falling, causing treacherous driving conditions all over eastern North Carolina. ... More from Brian Bailey...

Audio: The Brian Bailey Show

The Brian Bailey Show airs on Pirate Radio 1250 on Mondays at 6:30 p.m. Brian's guest this week was ECU assistant baseball coach Jeff Palumbo: Replay show...



Walk waived in Wave win

A photographic trail indicates that the outcome of last Wednesday's East Carolina-Tulane game may have been different if the officiating crew had blown the whistle on a pivotal play by the Green Wave's Louis Dabney. The play in question, which prevented the Pirates from winning in regulation, set the stage for Tulane to prevail in extra periods. ... More, including a 10-frame animation...



Bearcat bigs help turn back ECU

CINCINNATI — Octavius Ellis and Gary Clark each had double-doubles to lead Cincinnati to a 75-60 American Athletic Conference win over East Carolina before 12,513 at Fifth Third Arena on Saturday. ... More...



Howe a prize catch for Pirates

Hussein Howe may not be a football prodigy, but he certainly was ahead of his time at University Christian High School. Howe was so talented as an eighth grader at the private school of about 700 students in Jacksonville, FL, that coach David Penland promoted him to the varsity squad near the end of the 2011 season. ... More from Sammy Batten...

Thumbnails: ECU's recruiting class of 2016...


By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.


The recent cold weather has not been suited for baseball but the East Carolina program has been making the best of the situation with the season opener at home against Longwood today at 4 p.m. The Lancers were 22-34 overall last season and 9-15 in the Big South Conference.

Second-year ECU coach and alumnus Cliff Godwin has been keeping an eye on the forecast which is calling for sunny skies and a high in the mid-50s this afternoon.

The Pirates have taken precautions due to chilly conditions.

"If we feel like it's going to be detrimental to the health of our players, we never want to put our players in a situation where we feel like it's too cold, where pitchers could put themselves at risk or position players could put themselves at risk," Godwin said.

The Pirates coach conducted a workout inside on Sunday. Normally, ECU would scrimmage Friday, Saturday and Sunday to mimic a game week but Godwin scrimmaged Thursday with colder temperatures in the forecast for last weekend.

On the job training

Godwin was an assistant coach at prestigious programs such as Vanderbilt, Notre Dame, LSU and Ole Miss before returning to his alma mater to become a head coach.

ECU went 40-22 last season and won the American Athletic Conference tournament in its first year in the league.

It was a learning experience for the graduate of Greene Central High School.

"I think you learn a lot," Godwin said. "I think you learn how to manage everybody you're responsible for. The biggest thing I try to do as a head coach is to make every person within our organization feels important, from the student managers to the athletic trainers, our strength coach, our academic advisor, players that don't necessarily get on the field a lot, our assistant coaches, how important they are.

"Any successful organization, you have to make sure that everybody has the same vision that you do and understands what your goal is. Our organization is very good as far as everybody believing and one day having the opportunity to play in Omaha (in the College World Series). That's very important."

Speed added

One of Godwin's objectives in recruiting was to bring more speed into the program. The Pirates coach wants to be able to put more pressure on opponents with aggressive base running.

"We've definitely improved that area," he said. "Coach (Jeff) Palumbo (recruiting coordinator) and I brought in some guys who are more athletic, guys who can run. A few guys off the top of my head: Dwanya Williams-Sutton from Wilson (Greenfield), he can really run; Justin Dirden from St. Louis, he can really run; Kendall Ford, a junior college kid from Chattahoochee Valley, can really run. Another freshman, Brady Lloyd, can really run.

"Plus, we've put more emphasis on base running throughout our preparation. Older guys like Parker Lamm and Garrett Brooks and Charlie Yorgen are going to steal more bases just because they'll be more prepared. It's definitely something that you'll see more of this year, stolen bases."

Speed isn't the only asset for the new arrivals.

"I don't think we'll recruit anybody that can't get to first base," Godwin said. "I think they're going to be OK with that. Obviously, they all are different players. Dwanya is a guy who has power and speed, which you just don't normally see and so does Justin. Kendall and Brady are more of your typical fast guys where they're going to be a line drive, ground ball type hitter, bunt for a base hit. Get to first base that way. Everybody brings something different to the table. Those guys are a little bit different in their talents."

Pitching staff

Left-hander Evan Kruczynski was 8-4 with a 3.17 earned run average primarily as a weekend starter during his sophomore season. Mound roles have been defined to an extent going into the 2016 campaign.

"You've got a process," Godwin said. "The way the preseason works, you only get three weekends of intrasquad. (Evan) Kruczynski is going to pitch on Friday night. (Jacob) Wolfe (5-2, 3.35) is going to pitch on Saturday. Right now, it looks like Jimmy Boyd (5-7, 4.73) is going to start on Sunday. ... He's an older guy who pitched a lot for us last year. ... Joe Ingle (8 saves, 1.17 ERA) will be in the back of the bullpen as a closer. Davis Kirkpatrick is a guy who is coming off an arm injury. The first weekend we're going to use him in a reliever role but he could definitely be a guy who pushes guys for that starting rotation spot.

"Nick Durazo (5-1, 2.77) is another veteran back. He's going to be a valuable asset out of the bullpen but he could also start as well. You've got new guys, Chris Holba, Denny Brady, Sam Lanier and Matt Bridges, who are going to push for time. Also two returners who have made jumps but just still need to be a little more consistent are Mason Keen and Evan Voliva. ... Luke Bolka (0-0, 3.18), another lefty, actually broke his wrist at the end of the fall. He's coming back, swinging the bat and pitching. He will help us in some sort of capacity."

Position players

Godwin will have more options in his lineup with increased depth this season.

"Behind the plate, Travis Watkins (.292, 36 RBIs) is a veteran, a really good catch and throw, defensive guy, but also he's going to hit three-hole opening night for us so he's a guy who brings a lot to the table, not just baseball-wise but leadership-wise as well," Godwin said.

"Third base is going to be kind of a position where I don't know if we'll just go with one guy the whole season. The options there are going to be Kirk Morgan (.293), Eric Tyler (.268, 27 RBIs) and Charlie Yorgen (.283, 27 RBIs). Those are the three guys that you'll probably see there the most.

"Eric Tyler can do anything. He can catch, he can play third, he can play outfield. He can play first base so he will have a chance to be in the lineup in a lot of different places.

"Shortstop will be new faces. Turner Brown has looked really good in the preseason and been healthy, a plus-plus defender. He comes from Whiteville High School. He won back-to-back state championships. He's a little guy (5-9, 151) but plays a lot bigger. Then Wes Phillips, a junior college kid from Cisco Junior College in Texas. He has actually been a little bit banged-up. This weekend (Feb. 13) has actually been the first weekend he's actually scrimmaged full speed but he looks good. He's another guy who I left out on the speed part of it because he hasn't been able to run because of a groin injury. He's another guy who will bring speed to our lineup.

"At second, right now, Charlie Yorgen or Kendall Ford. First base, right now, will be Bryce Harman (.244, 7 HRs). There are other guys who can go over there like Eric Tyler and a few options there.

"In the outfield, we've got veterans back. Parker Lamm (.238), Garrett Brooks (.270), Jeff Nelson (.234). Two guys who will see some time out there are Dwanya Williams-Sutton and Justin Dirden. We definitely have more depth this year. We're more talented. We just need to keep the same culture of being selfless and just being focused on winning and everything else will take care of itself."

Performance carries over into academics

The Pirates have been getting it done on the field and in the classroom.

"The proof is in the pudding when you win 40 games last year and you really were outmanned at some positions and thin on the mound at times, just a group of guys who really believed in one another and didn't care who got the credit," Godwin said. "Then you transition that into the summer when we had all of our newcomers come in for summer school and most of the veterans back lifting weights.

"We had a 3.4 team grade point average in the summer. Then you translate that into the fall and we had a 3.42 team GPA. We had 28 out of 34 guys had a 3.0 GPA or higher. Pretty daggone impressive. I'm not trying to toot my own horn. It's just that I've coached all over the country and that's the highest team GPA I've ever been associated with, the closest being like a 3.2. It's unheard of.

"If you don't have a great culture and you don't have great leadership, that isn't happening. That's what the older guys have done a tremendous job of. They just welcomed those 17 newcomers. Treated them like they've been here for a long time. Those guys have done a tremendous job with that."

Commitment demanded

The perception may be that Godwin thinned out his roster last year with a demanding approach, similar to what former ECU coach Keith LeClair did upon his arrival.

"That's the thing that a lot of people like to say about me," Godwin said. "What you see is what you get with me. I put out our expectations, what is required to be an ECU Pirate. It's a privilege to play baseball at East Carolina. That's the way coach (Keith) LeClair treated us and that's the way I treat those guys.

"I didn't thin anybody out. They thinned themselves out. They didn't want to hold up with the responsibilities as far as their end of the bargain. They chose to make a decision and go elsewhere. There's nothing wrong with that. It's just that we have a pretty high standard here, what our expectations are. That's the way we live our life every single day."

Challenging schedule

The second weekend of the season will take the Pirates to Virginia, the defending College World Series champions.

The 13th annual Keith LeClair Classic will bring Southeastern Louisiana, Tennessee and Maryland to Greenville. There's a trip to perennial power Rice set for March 11-13. That's followed by a visit from North Carolina on March 15.

League play starts April 1 – no fooling – at home against Houston.

"It's not coach-speak but I learned a long time ago, you need to focus on game one, pitch one," Godwin said. "We're going to focus on Longwood, Feb. 19, that first pitch. The schedule is going to be a challenge. It's going to be a great opportunity for us to play great competition early, which will prepare us for the conference schedule."

The AAC turned out to be a surprisingly strong baseball league. The Pirates gained experience under Godwin in a very competitive conference.

"Last year, the American was third in RPI (ratings percentage index) in the country," Godwin noted. "I expect it to be right there again this year. Our guys are older. They have more confidence today than they had a year ago. Our guys have won. They understand how to win. A year ago, we were kind of feeling our way through it, especially early, and didn't know who to look to.

"Now the guys know to look to Travis. They know to look to Charlie. They know to look to Bryce. They look to Garrett. They look to guys who have been in the fight. Eric Tyler. When stuff is maybe not going well, they look to those guys, not necessarily from a vocal standpoint. ... Last year, at times early, you didn't know who to look to. Now they know who to look to."

There will be midweek clashes of regional interest with UNC-Wilmington, Elon, N.C. State, North Carolina and Campbell in the midst of the league gauntlet.

"Houston is going to be really good," Godwin said. "Tulane is going to be good. South Florida is going to be good. UCF, I think, is going to be good. Memphis is going to be good. UConn. Really you could spit out everybody. You don't get ranked third in the country in RPI and not have good programs. The head coaches in our league are very good coaches.

"Everybody talks about the American, when we got in it. It's going to be football. It's going to be basketball. It's a baseball conference. There's no other sport in the American to my knowledge, definitely not the big three, that finished third in RPI and baseball did. Put four teams in a regional. I'd be surprised if we didn't get four teams again."

Key to fulfilling potential

Last year, ECU exceeded expectations. Godwin was asked about what will be important to the 2016 Pirates in reaching their potential.

"You've got to put guys in roles they can be successful," he said. "If we keep the same culture, just focusing on the team goals and not individual goals, which is obviously hard, especially in this day's society where everything is about me to the exclusion of everything else. We've just got to keep the same team culture.

"As long as that shakes out good, I think we'll be in a good situation."

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02/19/2016 04:43 AM