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Pirate Notebook No. 419
Monday, February 8, 2010

Denny O'Brien

Right man in right place at right time

By Denny O'Brien
All Rights Reserved.

Billy Godwin
(Photo: ECU SID)


Big Honor for East Carolina Outfielder

Coach Billy Godwin presented the No. 23 jersey, an annual honor symbolizing the values of the late coach Keith LeClair, to Austin Homan (recorded by Brian Bailey):
Godwin & Homan Comments...


O'Brien: Right man in right place at right time
BVL Audio: Billy Godwin and No. 23 Recipient Austin Homan
BVL: Herd hammers Pirates 100-49
O'Brien: Mea culpa for poor choice of words
BVL Audio: Ruffin McNeill Signing Day Press Conference
Myatt: ECU's recruiting class gets 'Ruff' love
BVL: ECU Football Recruiting Thumbnails
BVL: Abrams shines but Pirates lose
Bailey: Expectations high as first pitch nears
BVL: East Carolina comeback falters
Bradsher: Baseball Bucs seek more than tributes
BVL Audio: Billy Godwin Press Conference

It’s easy to understate the impact Billy Godwin has had on the East Carolina baseball program.

Given the Pirates’ historical success on the diamond, it’s hard not to take for granted the accomplishments of any skipper who commands the ECU dugout.

Even when wool attire and wooden weapons were the gear du jour, the Pirates were a formidable force on the diamond. The track record for postseason success has been unparalleled by any other sport at ECU, and that has generated a mindset in which NCAA Tournament appearances are the expectation, not the goal.

From a distance, it’s almost tempting to suggest that coaches have been interchangeable within the ECU program. From Hal Baird to Keith LeClair, there has been no shortage of baseball frontmen who were considered among the best in their profession.

But to assume that ECU baseball can run on autopilot is dismissing the parameters that essentially led to Godwin’s hiring.

Given the job on semi-short notice, he was asked to tidy a mess left by the previous regime. That meant establishing a new way for handling things internally, retrofitting the inherited talent into his managerial style, and establishing a recruiting blueprint that would return the Pirates to a path that pointed towards Omaha.

That it took him only four seasons to reach an NCAA Super Regional qualifies him as a proven builder. That he enters this season with even greater expectations — despite the loss of several key sluggers — now places him in the category of reloader.

The next obvious step is Omaha, and Godwin already is demonstrating signs of his ability to guide the Pirates there.

Any doubters need look no further than the NCAA Regional the Pirates hosted last year. There the Pirates faced inclement weather and an early loss to South Carolina, yet rebounded to win four games in three days.

When you consider how shrewd Godwin was in managing his pitching staff, along with the resolve he instilled in his team, it should be remembered as one of the best weekends of coaching ever witnessed at East Carolina, regardless of sport.

For Godwin and the Pirates to leap over their final hurdle, there is no shortage of challenges that await. Big-barreled ones, too.

“It is very difficult,” Godwin said. “You look at where we are, and we’re right in the middle of ACC country. We’re surrounded by great programs in Virginia, North Carolina, and in South Carolina.

“To get to Omaha, you really have to play some stiff competition in our region of the country. After playing five games in three days like we did in our Regional last year, it showed how important it is to host. What we need to do now is to host a Super Regional.”

He’s right. College baseball, specifically in this region, is flooded with an abundance of premier programs that are regulars in June. In North Carolina alone, there are as many as seven programs that begin each season with a reasonable expectation of reaching the postseason.

When you add bordering states Virginia and South Carolina and extend over to Georgia, there is no shortage of college baseball powerhouses within home run distance. That sets the stage for challenging match-ups in NCAA Regional action given the way the NCAA prefers to regionalize teams in the postseason.

The resulting gauntlet paves a difficult path to Omaha, regardless of who the Pirates encounter in the postseason. And that wouldn’t be so bad if it were the only land mine Godwin is facing.

An even bigger obstacle is the stiff competition he faces on the recruiting trail. There, unlike most other sports at ECU, he can make a legitimate run at some of the nation’s elite, but to do so he must battle some of the giants in the business.

Though he certainly doesn’t win them all, he’s demonstrating regularly that he can more than hold his own.

There are more challenges, too. Like the schedule, which is hardly the cream-puff type that can inflate the overall record. Both in conference and out, the Pirates simply don’t have too many automatic W’s on the slate.

And while it’s hard to measure the impact of membership outside of a BCS automatic qualifier conference, there is no doubt that the extra funds those leagues generate could benefit ECU’s baseball cause.

That’s not to say that ECU doesn’t have some built-in advantages. It clearly does. Tradition, a first-class facility, access to a fertile recruiting area, and a devoted fan base all have benefited the Pirates’ cause.

Even so, winning in baseball at ECU isn’t as easy as many assume. It certainly isn’t a foregone conclusion.

Godwin is beginning to make it look like it is. And my hunch is that he will be the coach who eventually guides the Pirates to their ultimate goal.

E-mail Denny O'Brien

Denny O'Brien Archives

02/08/2010 02:35 AM

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