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Friday, February 26, 2016

By Al Myatt

Al Myatt

Challenge escalates for Pirates

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

East Carolina's baseball team is off to a 4-0 start with three wins over Longwood last weekend and an 11-2 victory over North Carolina A&T on Tuesday. The circumstances will be more challenging this weekend as the Pirates visit Virginia, the 2015 College World Series champions.

"We were tested a little bit on Saturday and Sunday against Longwood where Joe Ingle had to come in on Saturday when we had a big lead," said ECU coach Cliff Godwin. "We kind of gave up a few runs. Joe Ingle had to come in and shut the door. Sunday was a close game pretty much the whole day. Sunday, I was proud of our guys. We gave up two runs in the first and we scored three right then (bottom of the first). We put up another run in the fourth. Then they scored a run in the seventh and we answered with a run in the seventh. Nick Durazo pitched well out of the bullpen and so did Joe Ingle again.

"It's good to play those games. It's not always fun as a coach. It's more stressful than when you win 11-2 but the guys were put in some situations that were crucial and played well."

Pitching looks solid

The Pirates have used 14 pitchers and have a staff earned run average of 2.75.

"They've done awesome," Godwin said. "(Evan) Kruczynski, seven innings, zero runs. Jacob Wolfe, six innings, zero runs. Jimmy Boyd, five innings, two runs, giving us a chance to win. Durazo and Joe Ingle out of the bullpen did well. Tuesday, we got to pitch a lot of those freshmen. Sam Lanier has been in twice. He really came into a bad situation Tuesday where there were runners on first and second with no outs. He immediately gets a double-play ball and then gets out of the inning without giving up a run. Chris Holba had a clean inning. Cam Colmore had a clean inning and Matt Bridges had a clean inning.

"We were able to get a lot of guys in on Tuesday and they performed well."

Godwin anticipated a rotation this weekend of the left-handed Kruczynski (1-0, 0.00 ERA) at 3 p.m. today, southpaw Wolfe (1-0, 0.00) at 1 p.m. on Saturday and righty Boyd (1-0, 3.60) at 1 p.m. on Sunday against the Cavaliers.

"If they're healthy, that's who we're going with," said the second-year Pirates skipper.

First-year players produce

Freshman outfielder Dwanya Williams-Sutton is 7-for-14 (.500) with three doubles and six RBIs for the Pirates thus far.

"He was nicked up some in the fall," Godwin said. "He had a crack in his thumb. A ball hit his thumb. His hamstring bothered him at times.

"There's wear and tear on a college baseball player. It's physical. The days of your body feeling 100 percent were probably left back in high school. I've been very proud of the way he's approached each and every day, whether it be practice or games and just bringing his best effort every single day.

"Our leaders on our team, Garrett Brooks, Travis Watkins and Parker Lamm, have really helped him just be able to exert all of his energy every single day. He's a special athlete. The guy's 6-foot-1, 230 pounds, runs a 6.6 (second) 60 (yards) and can hit balls out of sight. ... His best days are still ahead of him. We've got to keep working to get him better."

Freshman shortstop Turner Brown also is off to a good start, hitting .571.

"He got off with a bang on Friday night, ... 3-for-3 with a triple shy of the cycle, Godwin said. "He played well defensively on Friday and Saturday. He did a good job."

Junior college transfer Wesley Phillips, an infielder, also has potential for the Pirates.

"Wes Phillips played on Saturday and Sunday," Godwin said. "He did well. We got a lot of guys in and got them some at-bats in different situations on the weekend. They've all answered the bell in my opinion. I think everybody who has been on the field has done what they're supposed to do."

Mindset vs. Virginia

Virginia (3-1) is ranked No. 8 in the National College Baseball Writers Association poll. ECU has lost nine in a row in the series, which the Cavaliers lead, 29-20.

Right-hander Connor Jones of UVa has matched Kruczynski's numbers with a 1-0 record and 0.00 ERA. Jones is expected to start today's matchup.

The Cavs swept last year's series in Greenville by scores of 3-1, 9-2 and 4-2.

"I know it's Virginia," Godwin said. "They're the defending national champions and all that stuff. I just want us to go play well. If we play well, we're going to put ourselves in position to have a chance to win the game.

"A lot of people have been talking about Virginia even before the season started. We had to win our first few games before Virginia is even on our mind. Our guys will be ready. They're prepared. We need to go out there and play our best baseball for sure to have a chance to win."

Since 1998, the Pirates are 70-126 against ranked teams.

O'Connor has transformed program

The current Virginia coaching staff has established a model for success since taking over prior to the 2004 season.

"It starts at the top with Brian O'Connor (head coach who came from Notre Dame), Kevin McMullen (hitting coach and former Pirates assistant) and Karl Kuhn (pitching coach)," Godwin said. "They've been together ever since O'Connor took over the program. They've got stability in their coaches. They recruit very well. They're tremendous coaches. When you have great players and you have great coaches, that's a recipe for success. Continuity in their staff has definitely helped them out.

"I can't say enough about how great they are as coaches."

The Cavaliers did lose some talent from a team that went 44-24 last year, including 15-15 in the ACC.

"They lost some key guys," Godwin said. "But they reload every year. There will be a freshman for them that will be the next Nathan Kirby or the next Josh Sborz. They're going to be good. We'll need to play our best baseball to have a chance to win."

Respect, not fear

Competing successfully is a pitch by pitch process.

"It's like I tell our guys every single day we don't want to play up to our competition and we don't want to play down to our competition," Godwin said. "We want to respect every opponent we play but fear nobody. Teams that get up for Virginia and play down to another team, they're going to be inconsistent in my opinion. They might beat a great team but then they might lose to a team that is less talented than them.

"We just worry about us showing up every single day and focus on winning pitches, offensively, defensively and on the mound. If we win enough pitches, then we'll win the game. ... I just want to go up there and play well and see how we match up against UVa."

Weather limited Wednesday plans

The Pirates were not able to practice Wednesday because of the threat of severe weather before making the bus ride to Charlottesville on Thursday afternoon.

"East Carolina let school out at one o'clock (Wednesday) so we weren't able to do any kind of athletic activities," Godwin said. "We were able to get a couple of pitchers in before 1 (p.m.) to get their bullpens in and stuff but once one o'clock hit, the university shut us down. ... It's not a bad thing. We played on Tuesday. We played well. There's not a ton of stuff you're trying to put in this time of year. You're just taking BP, ground balls and keeping them fresh."

E-mail Al Myatt

PAGE UPDATED 02/26/16 02:29 AM.

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