ECU has special opportunity ahead

Published 6:36 pm Tuesday, June 7, 2016

GREENVILLE — East Carolina is preparing for its fourth Super Regional in program history and first since 2009. The Pirates will travel to Lubbock, Texas with just two wins against Texas Tech separating them from a trip to Omaha, Nebraska for the College Baseball World Series.

The super-regional appearance means a lot to all of those in the ECU purple and gold, but perhaps none more than head coach Cliff Godwin. The second-year skipper and Snow Hill native played under legendary coach Keith LeClair during his time at ECU.

The Pirates made the NCAA tournament during three of Godwin’s five seasons with the team (1999, 2000, 2001). He helped lead ECU, a No. 6 national seed then, to the Super Regional in Kinston in 2001, but he and the Pirates ended up getting knocked off by Tennessee.

“I think about that every moment of every day,” Godwin said prior to Tuesday afternoon’s practice. “I made the last out of the super regional. I see that pitch all the time. I think about it. It was on our highlight video Thursday. We showed Chad Tracy’s home run. It’s part of our tradition. It’s a special moment for East Carolina University.”

Baseball is indeed part of ECU’s athletic tradition. Every year during preseason media day, the coaches and players talk about one common goal: Omaha. It’s an institution that has only grown since Godwin returned to the program in 2014 as its head coach.

Now the Pirates are a pair of wins from fulfilling that preseason goal, that tradition. Godwin and the Pirates want to take advantage of this opportunity to make history in a different way.

“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about it — East Carolina’s first trip to Omaha and I can wear (LeClair’s) No. 23,” Godwin said. “That’s a big deal. We talk about Coach LeClair almost every day. I want to wear No. 23 in Omaha and then I want to retire his jersey and put it up on the outfield wall where it belongs.”

Playing at a Super Regional and having a shot at going to Omaha means as much to the players as it does to Godwin. The team met this past Thursday night. Godwin had each player speak, describing what the team and his teammates mean to him.

“Once you hear all these guys express their feelings for one another, it was pretty special,” Godwin said. “I think they play for one another. I think they play for East Carolina University. I think that’s why they play with a chip on their shoulder and play with a ton of emotion and, what I consider, a ton of energy.”

Despite everything in front of them, the players know they can’t look too far ahead. Texas Tech, the No. 5 national seed, will be a formidable opponent. The Pirates will have to endure not only that, but also a hostile crowd and excruciating heat.

STEPPING UP: Garrett Brooks comes up to bat in a game earlier in the season. Brooks, a four-year member of the team, has consistently improved to help put ECU within reach of this special opportunity to redefine tradition.

“It’s in the back of our minds,” Garrett Brooks said. Brooks, a four-year member of the team, has seen it grow into a national contender during his time as a Pirate. “We’re just trying to take it one game at a time and one pitch at a time. Knowing we’re two wins away is a pretty cool feeling.”

The Pirates set sail for Lubbock on Wednesday morning. The team has already put its stamp on program history, but another opportunity to accomplish something truly special is on the horizon.