ECU baseball confident heading into February

Published 4:26 pm Thursday, January 23, 2014




The ECU baseball team is a little less than a month away from their season opener against James Madison, and this year they bring an unwavering confidence, young roster and an All-American pitcher to the table in their last year in Conference USA.

After a failing to qualify for the NCAA tournament last year, the Pirates are looking to rebound and make a run at a conference championship. A revamped C-USA will feature seven new baseball schools, including Charlotte, University of Texas at San Antonio and Florida Atlantic, who had a historic run in last year’s NCAA tournament, advancing all the way to the Chapel Hill super-regional. The conference will also be transferring from a 24-game to a 30-game schedule to compensate for the extra teams.

“This is always an exciting time,” said Manager Billy Godwin. “Friday will be our first day together as a team. I can sense it. I’ve sensed it since we finished fall workouts and in the winter when we were in the weight room, this group is chomping at the bit a little bit.”

The national spotlight will be front and center on starting pitcher Jeff Hoffman, who was named a Preseason All-American by Perfect Game on Monday. The Pirate ace finished the 2013 season with a 6-7 record with an ERA of 3.20 and a team-high 84 strikeouts. ESPN’s Keith Law also ranked Hoffman as the No. 2 draft prospect in this year’s Major League Baseball’s First-Year Player Draft set to take place in June.

“I don’t really feel any pressure. I just know if I go out there and do my best, my talent will dictate all that stuff,” said Hoffman. “It’s fun to see that kind of stuff and see that all these guys think that I can lead this team…and I know I can lead this team. If I go out there and do what I’m supposed to do, I’m going to let those guys do what they’re supposed to do and we’re going to put this thing together and go a long way.”

Hoffman earned himself national recognition after he was named the top prospect in the Cape Cod Baseball League this summer.

“I learned how to pitch,” said Hoffman referencing his time spent in the Cape Cod League. “You’re around all those guys and you get to see how other schools work, you get to see how all those other guys are coached. Going out there and watching the way they go about their business—pregame, postgames and during the games—you kind of learn a lot and understand what you need to do to succeed.”

The sky is the limit for Hoffman in his final season in Pirate purple, but it’s going to take more than one start a week to return the Pirates to championship form. With top producers like Chase McDonald and Jack Reinheimer exiting, there are holes at first base, shortstop and even outfield that need to be addressed. Two players who suffered knee injuries last spring, Kirk Morgan and Hunter Allen, will be competing for the starting shortstop job over the next few weeks.

Returning starters Garrett Brooks and Ben Fultz will pick up where they left off at the corner outfield positions, while Godwin plans to groom Ian Townsend, who has impressed the coaching staff this offseason with his power and speed, into an everyday center fielder.

“Our goal is we want to win Conference USA. We want to go out of this [conference] with a bang,” said Godwin. “History has showed us that if you win this league, you have a chance to host, and if you have a chance to host, you have a chance to win and advance to a super-regional. It’s kind of one step at a time, but our No. 1 goal is to win Conference USA, and this team and this coaching staff is determined to do that.”

The Pirates open the season with a four-game home stand against James Madison and Campbell beginning on Feb. 14, then hit the road to take on nationally-ranked Virginia for a three-game series on Feb. 21.

“We’re going to go out there, do what we’re supposed to do, buy in to what the coaches are telling us and get the job done,” said Hoffman.

This article was written with the help of Stephen Igoe, curator and reporter of East Carolina’s 247Sports Web site.