Classic timingPublished 9:58pm Thursday, March 10, 2011
GREENVILLE č After pulling out two ninth inning victories this week, the East Carolina baseball team heads into the eighth annual Keith LeClair Classic with momentum clearly on its side.
The Pirates (9-3) began the week by edging out Campbell 3-2 thanks to a ninth inning RBI double by Philip Clark that scored Zach Wright for the win.
That victory was greatly aided by an outstanding performance out of the bullpen by closer Seth Simmons. The Pirates’ reliever entered the game in the seventh inning with the bases loaded, no outs and the score tied at 2-2 and managed to get three straight outs to escape the jam.
On Wednesday, ECU’s ability to excel in clutch situations continued as the Pirates broke a 4-4 ninth inning tie when Trent Whitehead led off the inning with his third double of the game and was brought home by a single from freshman Jack Reimeir whose walk-off hit gave the team its third straight win.
On the season, ECU has played in seven games that have been decided by two runs or less and holds a 5-2 record in those games.
“I think it’s certainly good that we have won some close games,” ECU head coach Billy Godwin said. “This team, 12 games in, has been tested pretty much night in and night out. What I like is that we are getting results and are coming out on top …
I just met with our leadership group and one of the things they talked about is that they felt like there is never a sense of panic if we are down. If we’re up we feel like we will seal the deal. If we are down they feel like we are going to comeback and win the game.
“I think attitude is so important in what we do as players and coaches, and that’s the exact attitude I want them to have.”
The Pirates are hoping that attitude can lift them to a tournament victory this weekend as they kickoff the LeClair Classic today against Monmouth at 1 p.m., then play Rutgers at 3 p.m. on Saturday before closing out the tourney against Liberty on Sunday at 2 p.m.
Whitehead, a former Washington High School standout, is in his senior season and will be playing in his final tournament.
“The tournament is always a big deal because of what it means and the teams we bring in. It seems we always bring in quality opponents,” Whitehead said. “It’s a time where we kind of reflect on all the things Coach LeClair has done for this university and it’s just a good time. We make a huge deal about it because it is a big deal. I’m looking forward to going out my last year and having a good showing.”
Whitehead said he has fond memories of the tournament that date back to his first LeClair Classic in 2008 when ECU stunned No. 15 Michigan 6-5.
“I remember the Michigan game, I actually hit my first career home run that game,” Whitehead said. “That’s the best memory I have from the tournament.”
Like Whitehead, Godwin was also excited about the team’s playing in this year’s tournament.
“I think the one thing we try to do with the LeClair tournament is try to expose our fans to different conferences, different leagues and different programs and I think we had done a good job of that my six years here,” Godwin said. “We have had west coast teams, southeast teams, midwest teams and I think that’s exciting. I think on paper this field is a good field.”
The tournament will begin today at 1 p.m. when Rutgers (5-5, Big East Conference) takes on Liberty (5-8, Big South Conference). Upon the conclusion of that game, ECU will take on Monmouth (5-3 North Eastern Conference) who is coached by former Pirates baseball player Dean Ehehalt.
“(Ehehalt) is a former grad here and we have played a series against them since I have been here,” Godwin said. “It’s kind of a reward for him and his program to come down here and play in this tournament, especially because he was a former player here. I always try to have some kind of East Carolina tie in the tournament. I think that’s what our tournament is about, letting our fans see a variety of teams from a variety of conferences.”
The tournament is named after former ECU baseball coach Keith LeClair, who coached the Pirates from 1998-2002 and in that time won 68 percent of his games to finish No. 2 on ECU’s all-time wins list with a record of 212-96-1. LeClair died in 2006 when he lost his battle with ALS.