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From the Anchor Desk
Tuesday, June 14, 2016
By Brian Bailey
WNCT-TV 9 Sports Director

Omaha closer than it was

By Brian Bailey
All rights reserved.

Never has an East Carolina baseball team gotten as close to a trip to Omaha.

It will go down as the longest 90 feet in Pirate baseball history. Saturday’s 3-1, 13-inning loss to Texas Tech in game two of the NCAA Lubbock Super Regional was simply a gut-wrenching marathon.

The Pirates could get a runner to third. One seeing-eye single. One wild pitch or passed ball. One timely hit. Any of those would have sent Cliff Godwin and his Pirates to Omaha for the very first time.

Those of us who were around during the Keith LeClair era know what that would have meant. Words can’t describe that raw emotion.

LeClair wanted it that badly for East Carolina. Perhaps Godwin wants it more, to honor his former coach and his alma mater.

“Unfortunately we just weren't able to crack through yesterday,” said Godwin in the postgame press conference after ECU’s 11-0 loss to Texas Tech in the clinching game on Sunday. “I think it took a toll on us today, and the better team won. They outplayed us today when it mattered. But it's baseball.

"You know, the ball Brady Lloyd hit yesterday in whatever inning it was, it hits the mound – if it doesn't hit the mound, then we're going to Omaha yesterday. It didn't go our way, but I can tell you this: East Carolina baseball will be back. I promise you. These guys have put East Carolina in another regional, winning a regional championship, and a super-regional, won the first game of the super-regional, first time in school history, and we're going to continue to get better.”

(Replay Godwin's press conference audio...)

With the Pirates' depleted bullpen the team’s only hope for a win on Sunday was for lefty Jacob Wolfe to come through in a big way. Wolfe, though, struggled down the stretch. He didn’t pitch in Clearwater and didn’t last long against William & Mary. He only recorded a single out in first inning on Sunday, giving up three runs on three hits and two walks.

“Well, yeah, that's what you don't want,” said Godwin. “When you draw it up as a coach, you want to get the momentum and not give 5,000 Texas Tech fans the momentum, and we didn't do a good job of that.”

Even with a great effort on the mound, Godwin said his team just didn’t deliver enough at the plate to win.

“You know, really when you look at it, we didn't execute offensively yesterday or today early to give us a chance," he said. "We had opportunities yesterday. I thought our guys felt pressure yesterday.”

Godwin didn’t waste any time getting set for 2017. He says the future is bright with his program.

There is no easy way to get to Omaha, but playing at home certainly increases your odds for success. The Pirate coach knows his team’s goals will be lofty ones next season.

“We're going to be in a good situation to host a regional next year,” said Godwin. “The draft was good to us. Travis (Watkins) will be back and (Evan) Kruczynski will be back. Those guys turned down some money. They weren't drafted, but they had calls, and then the incoming guys are really talented.

"You know what, we're going to be really good, and I'm not afraid to say it on record because I'm excited about the future. When you get into a head coaching position, it really takes you three years to get your recruits in here, and the class we've got coming in is going to be one of the best in the country.”

Perhaps Godwin said it best after Saturday’s loss.

“You can't go through the back door to get to Omaha. You've got to go through the front door and tell everybody you're coming.”

Godwin said it in Lubbock. The Pirates are coming!

It just didn’t happen this season.

On a personal note, I had more fun with this team than any other in my 30-plus seasons covering Pirate baseball.

From emceeing the season-opening banquet, to growing a mustache with the players and coaches for ALS awareness, to watching in awe as Travis Watkins beat the defending national champions in Charlottesville, it was some kind of ride.

As I said in my television report, only my son Ryno’s wedding kept me out of Lubbock this past weekend. Still, I had the entire wedding party watching those extra innings on Saturday on a cell phone. We picked up a couple of Pirate fans that day I’m sure.

So, Cliff Godwin and the Pirate program, keep your heads up high. For whatever reason, this wasn’t your time. That time is coming.

LeClair said it. Godwin came close in year two.

Omaha is and will always be the goal.

It’s now certainly in sight for the Pirate baseball program.


E-mail Brian Bailey

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