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Pirates come back in opener


AAC Tournament | Clearwater, FL

Thursday: ECU vs. Tulane, 7 pm

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Thumbnail: Juco PG Charles Foster

Point guard Charles Foster has become the fourth member of ECU coach Jeff Lebo's recruiting class of 2015-16. One of the top players in Kentucky coming out of high school, Foster spent the last two years at perennial junior college powerhouse Vincennes (IN) University. ... Thumbnail sketch...



Pirates ride momentum into tourney

East Carolina heads to the Sunshine State for tournament play this week at the American Athletic Conference Baseball Championship. The Pirates carry plenty of momentum to Clearwater, FL, after sweeping Cincinnati. ECU finished the regular season one game out of a share of the AAC title with Houston. ... 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 baseball coach Cliff Godwin (right) and D.H. Conley coaches Jason Mills (baseball) and Wayne Deans (softball): Replay show...



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ECU tops Cincinnati, 7-3

CINCINNATI East Carolina opened its American Athletic Conference series at Cincinnati with a 7-3 win on Thursday night. Reid Love (7-3) pitched seven innings as a three-run fifth inning put the Pirates (34-20, 13-9 AAC) ahead to stay. ... More...



Senior Nights and Days for Pirates

Al MyattEast Carolina officially celebrated Senior Night with a 7-0 win over Elon at Clark-LeClair Stadium on Tuesday night. There have been numerous senior afternoons and evenings for the Pirates throughout the 2015 season because Hunter Allen and Reid Love have played such big roles ... More from Al Myatt...

Pictured: Hunter Allen, top left, is shown turning a 6-3 double play in an ECU win over Princeton on March 17. Reid Love, top right, is pictured celebrating with Pirates coach Cliff Godwin after his leadoff triple in the bottom of the 9th set up a dramatic victory over N.C. State on April 21. Heading into the final series of the regular season, the senior co-captains have been stalwart performers as the Pirates have made a run at the American Athletic Conference title while keeping their eyes on a potential NCAA regional berth. (Photos by W.A. Myatt)

By Al Myatt
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CLEARWATER, FL East Carolina baseball coach Cliff Godwin and Pirates assistant Jeff Palumbo used to be on the staff at Central Florida, the Pirates' opening opponent in the American Athletic Conference tournament at Bright House Field.

The Knights were a tough draw for ECU, seeded No. 2 for the event as the regular season AAC runner-up to Houston, even though the Knights were seeded seventh for the eight-team tournament.

UCF was ranked No. 9 in early March and split a series with then-No. 2 Florida.

The Knights started senior right-hander Zach Rodgers, who was 10-0 coming into the 11 a.m. matchup on Wednesday. The tournament location is less than two hours driving time from the UCF campus.

The Pirates were down 3-1 going to the bottom of the seventh and still trailed 3-2 entering the eighth. Despite its accomplishments this season, ECU was 0-14 when trailing after seven innings in 2015.

Despite that boatload of adversity, the Pirates took a 4-3 victory, even after the first potential winning run was tagged out at the plate in the bottom of the ninth.

Godwin had to get a possible ear infection checked out later Wednesday so Palumbo pinch hit for a postgame interview. The ECU assistant said Godwin had the condition addressed medically and that it shouldn't be a factor as he performs his responsibilities during the remainder of the week.

Pinch runner Parker Lamm was out at home trying to score from second on a double off the right field fence by Hunter Allen for the second out in the bottom of the ninth.

"We don't score the run with one out and Charlie (Yorgen) falls behind in the count, 0-2," Palumbo said. "He really just battled, They had him shaded just a little bit towards the four hole there. Charlie was able to get a change-up that was a little bit up there and stay on it just enough to bang the baseball up the middle to score Hunter."

The Pirates got some running in as Yorgen was tracked down and dog piled.

The outcome put the Pirates in a 7 p.m. game with third-seeded Tulane (34-21) tonight. There are two four-team brackets in the tournament. It's double elimination through the bracket finals on Saturday. The two bracket survivors meet Sunday at noon for the tournament championship on ESPNU.

Palumbo recapped Godwin's remarks to the team as the Pirates improved to 37-20, the program's most wins since the 2011 club went 41-21.

"He's proud of them," Palumbo said. "We don't play a ton of 11 o'clock games. It's a little bit unique for the guys, especially in the middle of the week. It's not so much about motivating them as just getting them going and getting their bodies going. It's a little bit of a different heat here and trying to get them prepared for those things and how to handle that. We told them that you guys have earned everything you've accomplished this year and it's going to have to be the same thing here. Whether you're the two or the one or the eight, nobody cares, records are out the window. A few of the teams here are really playing for their lives within their season. We have to be ready to go out and compete. Nobody is going to give us anything."

The matchup with the Knights was a case in point. UCF (31-26) took a 1-0 lead in the top of the second against Pirates ace Reid Love, who battled for eight innings with no decision. Love allowed nine hits and three earned runs in eight-plus innings while walking one and striking out nine.

ECU answered in the bottom of the second with a solo homer to left by Travis Watkins, his third of the season, to tie the score at 1.

The contest was deadlocked until UCF's Dylan Moore had a two-run single in the top of the seventh for a 3-1 Knights lead.

Bryce Harman doubled down the right field line for ECU to start the bottom of the seventh. A chop to the right side by Eric Tyler got Harman to third and he scored on a sacrifice fly by Garrett Brooks to draw the Pirates within 3-2.

Luke Lowery's triple and a sacrifice fly by Watkins tied the score at 3 in the eighth.

ECU brought Joe Ingle to the mound after Love surrendered a leadoff single in the ninth. The freshman right-hander, who has six saves, picked up his first win.

Tyler was hit by a pitch to start the bottom of the ninth. Lamm came in as his pinch runner. A sacrifice bunt by Brooks moved Lamm to second. Allen doubled off the right field wall but Erik Barber played the ricochet and started the sequence that retired Lamm short of the plate.

ECU outhit the Knights 11-9 and neither team committed an error. Allen went 3-for-5. Yorgen and Kirk Morgan each had two hits.

The Pirates began preparing for tonight's game shortly after the tournament opener in terms of hydration and nutrition. Tourist time is over although the team did get to go to the beach after arriving from the completion of the series at Cincinnati.

"We monitored how long they were in the sun and in the water," Palumbo said.

The Pirates have transitioned to business mode and that means pregame meal at 3 p.m. today.

"We'll try to find a place to get some swings in the morning," Palumbo said. "From three o'clock on, it will be our traditional set up. We'll go through some meetings to get the guys prepared for who they're going to face on the mound and Coach (Dan) Roszel will take the pitchers and get them prepared. ... We'll get prepared with infield and outfield practice."

NCAA announcement next week

Projections show the Pirates in the NCAA Tournament field.

"That's always in the back of your mind," Palumbo said. "At the beginning of the season when we set our goals and what we wanted to accomplish, an American Athletic Conference championship was a huge piece of that and we have that opportunity this week. We'll take that step (NCAAs), when we get to it. Hopefullly, that's Monday. We'll find out where we're going to get an opportunity to go compete.

"Winning a conference championship is special. Getting a chance to put that ring on is something that these guys have been working for. It's something that they're very, very focused on. They want to win a championship. They came up a game short in the regular season of our goal and it's something that Coach Godwin reminded them about today. We had a goal in mind and we didn't accomplish that in the regular season. The nice part is we've got a tournament here to try and achieve that."

No. 22

Palumbo wears No. 22, one number less than the No. 23 that Godwin wears to honor the memory of his former ECU coach, Keith LeClair.

"That was the number that I wore in college," said Palumbo, who had an outstanding career at George Mason.

He has worked on staffs at his alma mater (2006-08), UCF (2009-11) and Virginia Commonwealth (2012-14).

"Since I got out of college, I said 'Let's keep it rolling,'" Palumbo said. "That's what I've worn at all my stops so far. One year at VCU when I got there ... I never want to take it away from a player. If I get to a spot and a player has it, I let them finish out their career in it and then I'll go in if it's available and take it."

Keys in AAC Tournament

Success in the league event involves the Pirates playing to their potential.

"Really just playing our baseball," Palumbo said. "Today, obviously, Reid Love gave us a fantastic start on the mound. ... We played very clean defense. We didn't get any clutch hits in the first part of the game but late in the game we were able to get some of those clutch hits.

"When it gets down to it, it's just about playing consistent baseball. You get it going with the bats and you kind of make a run deep into the tournament. Just being ourselves. These guys have done that all year long through the ups and downs. They're a very close-knit group. ... Play good, quality baseball. At the end of the day, you've got to get good starts on the mound and conserve some of that pitching because it is a long week.

"These guys throw strikes and play good defense, we should be in good shape."

Godwin's contributions

There is a consensus surrounding the program that Godwin has had a positive influence in his first season, a contention validated earlier this week when he was named AAC Coach of the Year in voting by his peers.

Palumbo has worked with first-year coaches in programs on multiple occasions.

"Coach Godwin has brought to the guys some freshness and a little bit of a positive new energy," Palumbo said. "The players could probably attest to that more than I could. ... One thing that I've noticed is that these guys have enjoyed coming up to the field as much as any team I've coached in the last decade. They really enjoy themselves. They enjoy being around each other. ... Every team is enjoyable in their own way but it's not as enjoyable as this team has been. You kind of fight some things and try to get guys to buy in to what you're trying to emphasize with a new program.

"These guys that are here right now in that locker room have bought in to Coach Godwin and really, really embraced his philosophy and, most importantly, how he wants them to play the game. In talking with people who have been around the program and scouts that have seen the program over time, that's the one thing that they continue to tell me is how hard our guys play, how much they get after it and how consistent they are with their energy. That's the biggest thing. ... We brought some new philosophies to the guys. Coach Godwin has asked them to play a certain way. Once we got going in the middle of the season, they started to see the positive effects of that, their work ethic, how they've gone about it, how we kind of pushed them to be tougher with our early season workouts. They've kind of embraced that. Really, that's kind of helped them believe in themselves and what we're trying to accomplish.

"It's like a snowball that's going downhill. It's hard to stop. I think that's where we are right now. Those guys are very, very excited. ... They're a close-knit group who have bought in to what Coach has asked them to do. They've seen the good things start to happen. They're hard to stop right now."

New talent enlisted

Godwin and his staff are playing primarily with personnel they didn't recruit. They have adapted players who were in the program to demanding standards, an area where Godwin was impacted by LeClair's approach at the outset of his tenure with the Pirates.

That will change next season with the arrival of the first recruiting class in the Cliff Godwin era.

"We have a talented group of 18 guys right now that will be coming in next year," said Palumbo, who serves as recruiting coordinator as well as defensive coach for the infielders and as offensive assistant in support of Godwin.

Some of ECU's signees are potential draft choices.

"Our sport is different than any other sport in that manner," Palumbo said. "We're trying to bring in the most talented players that we can but a too-talented player is not going to show up on your campus."

Former ECU recruit Mike Trout would be an example.

"The draft is going on June 6-8 and we have a number of guys, I think four or five within the class that are legitimate draft candidates," Palumbo said. "We work with them and their families, really on just educating them. We don't need to sell them. I feel like East Carolina and the program we're building sells itself. It's more about educating them on college and getting a fantastic degree. The pro ball side of things seems very, very glamorous if you're a 17- or 18-year old kid because they watch the big league games on TV and they hear about the big league life. They don't always hear about the steps those guys have taken to get there and how difficult that can be.

"At the end of the day, bypassing an education can be tough. We just try to educate them on what we're about, what we have and what we're going to be able to provide them. ... We try to educate them as much as we can on the process."

05/21/2015 04:03 AM