Pirate baseball prepare to host 12th annual classic

Published 4:44 pm Friday, February 20, 2015

GREENVILLE — With a winless opening weekend in the rearview mirror, the East Carolina baseball team will shift its focus on winning its third-straight Keith LeClair Classic.

The tournament, named after the late Pirate head coach Keith LeClair, will feature games with St. John’s (1-2), No.24-ranked Liberty (2-1) and UNC Greensboro (1-1). Michigan was slated to take part in the tournament, but because of the recent winter weather, the Wolverines were unable to make the trip.

The Pirates (0-3) have historically had success in the Keith LeClair Classic. In the last two seasons alone, ECU won all three games en route to earning the tournament crown.

“Obviously this is my first Classic,” said first year head coach Cliff Godwin, who played under LeClair from 1998-2001. “Everybody knows how important coach LeClair was to me and to this program, so it’s important that we play like he would want us to play.”

Liberty and St. John’s are both fresh off of an appearance in the Atlanta Challenge last weekend and will face the Pirates on Sunday with Liberty playing at 2:30 p.m. and St. John’s playing at 6 p.m.

The Flames are coming off of a record-breaking 41-18 campaign in which they were awarded their first ever at-large spot in the NCAA Regionals. Liberty, at one point, was ranked as high as No.21 during its run for the Big South regular season title.

“Liberty, they’re preseason picked to finish one or two in their league,” said Godwin. “We just have to play hard and compete and our guys know that.”

Liberty boasts sophomore pitcher Parker Bean. The righty was named to the Freshman All-American team last season after posting a 7-3 record with a 2.95 ERA. He was the opening day starter this season for Liberty, but earned the loss against Kennesaw State after allowing eight runs through three innings.

For St. John’s, its baseball team is following up a 35-20 season. Led by head coach Ed Blankmeyer, the Red Storm are returning a cast of offensive talent, including outfielder Michael Donadio and third baseman Robbie Knightes. As freshmen last season, the duo hit .328 and .399 respectively.

“They’re always well coached,” said Godwin of Blankmeyer’s Red Storm team. “I coached against him when I was at Notre Dame in the Big East and they’re always good.”

UNC Greensboro, the last-minute addition to the tournament, split a two game set with High Point last weekend to start its season. The Pirates will clash with the Spartans at noon on Saturday to get the tournament under way.

The Pirates are welcoming ace Reid Love back to the pitching staff. Godwin said that while they don’t want to test Love with the bat, he does want to give him some time on the mound, coming out of the bullpen.

Pitchers Evan Kruczynski, Jacob Wolfe are set to start the first two games of the series while the third game is still up for grabs, according to Godwin.

Also returning to the lineup is sophomore first baseman Bryce Harman who sat out the opening series against Virginia with a suspension.