ECU Baseball: Steady as she goes…

Published 12:19 pm Tuesday, June 14, 2022

If there is any consolation to be taken from ECU’s NCAA super regional loss to the University of Texas early Monday morning, Pirate players, coaches and fans can find it in the mirror.

It wasn’t long ago that the notion of them “Diamond Bucs” finishing their season like it did would’ve been considered delusional. East Carolina had lost two of their top mound performers, the bats were slumping and the record was middling. There was something off in the typically successful world of Pirate baseball and no one could put their finger on it.

But, by the first of June, the Pirates had closed the season with a 32-7 record, garnered national headlines and a top-eight national seeding when the tournament selections were announced. The Pirates, it seemed, were peaking at the right time.

In the Greenville Regional, the Pirates kicked Coppin State, fended off a game Virginia squad and sent Coastal Carolina packing. The winning streak had ended, but by that point, stats like that are little more than a distraction.

Next up was Texas is a made-for-TV matchup: the Longhorns, who have made more trips to Omaha than any other program, versus East Carolina, who holds the dubious distinction of being the best program in the country that’s never had the honor.

The Pirates cranked out a 13-7 win in Game One, and were just one win away from Omaha. With a rowdy, record-setting crowd and with a win in their back pocket, the Pirates almost knew they had to put it away in Game Two.

In Saturday’s rematch, the Bucs fell behind early but surged ahead in the middle innings. By stretch time, ECU appeared to be in the catbird seat with a 7-2 lead, but no lead is ever comfortable in such a high-stakes affair.

But baseball, as they say, is a funny game. Fortunes can change in moments and emotions can turn on a dime. Texas smashed a two-run homer in the bottom of the seventh, then blasted over two more in the bottom of the eighth. Going into the ninth, the Pirates were down, 8-7, but the determined Diamond Bucs weren’t done quite yet. Jacob Starling cracked a dinger to left field just inside the line to knot the game at eight. The Longhorns answered in the bottom half for a 9-8 walk-off win. Though the series was just tied, you couldn’t escape the feeling that momentum had shifted. Only time would tell as they awaited Sunday’s finale.

As it happened, Game Three was over before it began. After a rain delay, Texas posted four runs in the first. The second rain delay carried the festivities well into the night (and early morning), but it was more of the same once the action finally resumed.

UT added five more in the second, the Pirates had hit the proverbial wall and there was just nothing else that could be done.

It’s a bitter pill. The success ECU has grown accustomed to under Cliff Godwin only accentuates that bitterness. As the players and coaches take a hard post-season look in the mirror, the program’s future success requires a balanced perspective of working harder and getting better while resisting the urge to look over their collective shoulder. The College World Series is just over the horizon, and for the Pirates program, it’s steady as she goes.

For the fans who did such a phenomenal job supporting ECU through the post-season, this one will sting for a while. But that crooked Pirates’ collective smile will return soon enough; because win or lose, being a Pirate is always its own reward.

David Singleton is the Group Marketing & Advertising Director for the Washington Daily News.