Pirates determined to reach Omaha

Published 6:18 pm Monday, January 23, 2017

GREENVILLE — Anticipation was palpable amongst the East Carolina baseball team during its media day on Monday afternoon. The Pirates won the program’s first Super Regional game at Texas Tech back in June and nearly advanced to the College World Series in Omaha.

For many of the players, it took some time to get over the extra-innings loss in Game 2, then the blowout in Game 3 that sent them home. It’s still in the backs of their minds, although now it serves as motivation for the Pirates.

This season is all about legacy. When senior Friday night pitcher Evan Kruczynski was being recruited, he knew of ECU because of superstar running back Chris Johnson.

Now ECU is going into its third season under head coach Cliff Godwin. In that short span, Kruczynski and the rest of the team’s seniors have seen the program grow into a championship-caliber club. The Pirates have been ranked as high as No. 6 in preseason polls.

The seniors that have built this team up have overcome a lot — including a coaching change — to get the program to this point.

“It’s kind of like taking Spanish versus English,” senior second baseman Charlie Yorgen said of the two coaching regimes. “The older guys, we feel like we’ve been here for a while. … We talk about the difference in the program, and it’s obvious that coach (Cliff) Godwin has excelled here and brought the program along with him.”

Godwin added, “They were inches away last year from going to Omaha and playing in the College World Series. They have got a lot of upgrades in the facilities. When they come back 20 years from now, they can take their kids around and say, ‘Hey, I was a part of building that hitting indoor, getting that new scoreboard, the turf around the field.’ I think that’s pretty special.”

They’ve certainly left a mark on the program. However, there’s a lot left to accomplish — not just for the seniors, but also for Godwin, his staff and the highly touted incoming freshman class.

Godwin, a former Pirate himself, wears No. 23 in homage of Keith LeClair. He said many times last season that one of his ultimate goals is to take ECU to Omaha and then retire LeClair’s number in Clark-LeClair Stadium.

According to Godwin, it boils down to consistency. He said that, as a whole, the Pirates weren’t as consistent as he would have liked last year. They’ve been tracking that through the preseason, and hope that can be the key to bringing a regional to Greenville.

“I look back on the 2001 team I played on,” Godwin said. “Coach LeClair never mentioned one time, ‘Hey, we need to play great every single day.’ We just need to go out there and play our best baseball each day, individually, and focus on getting better. We need to focus on us.”

That mentality lines up with the internal focus that has been a staple of the culture Godwin has created at ECU. He and the players haven’t put much stock in their preseason rankings. They’re simply looking at themselves and finding out what they can do to reach their goals.

ECU won’t ease its way into the season. It kicks things off with a weekend series at Ole Miss starting on Feb. 17. It will mark the first step toward the team’s ultimate objective.

“The expectation isn’t Omaha. The expectation is to win the National Championship,” Kruczynski said.