The ECU Pirate baseball team is finally regular season conference champions.
The Pirates secured their first American Athletic Conference regular season championship with a 6-1 win over Wichita State Friday night. It’s also the first regular-season title for head coach Cliff Godwin, who already had two AAC tournament titles on his resume.
It was a foregone conclusion already that the Pirates would do so, coming into the series needing just one win to clinch and they did not disappoint. ECU took two out of three and has now won all seven of its AAC series this season and sports an 18-3 conference record. The competition hasn’t been much all of the league play.
Yet still, ECU fans waited until the Pirates got home late Sunday night and greeted coach Godwin and the players when they got back to Clark-LeClair Stadium just before 11 p.m. A moment that nobody doubted was coming but still created so much excitement, and deservedly so.
ECU as of Monday sits at No. 5 in the NCAA Baseball RPI rankings and is still on track to host not only a Greenville regional for the second year in a row but possibly a Greenville super regional as well. ECU Athletics are already sending out ticket information to both events after all.
And there are no chinks in the armor as ECU closes out the last four games of the season. The two Jake’s continue to pitch well at the top of the rotation. Agnos threw seven scoreless innings in the series-opening win, and Kuchmaner threw 6.2 scoreless innings of his own the next day. Tyler Smith got in on the act with just two runs through five innings in Sunday’s 7-3 win.
The only loss of the series came on Saturday by a score of 3-1. That was because of Wichita State starter Clayton McGinnis throwing a complete game masterpiece, and Gavin Williams having a bad outing for the bullpen, the first in a while. But the point is it took that much just for the Shockers to not be swept by the Pirates.
Certainly, if anybody knows coach Godwin, he will not let the team get too relaxed and take their foot off the pedal. He’s more concerned about getting to Omaha and the College World Series and that’s about playing your best baseball all the way through, not clinching a regular season title. Just because ECU is hosting a regional again doesn’t let anyone forget what happened last postseason.
But inevitably, clinching so early allows some benefits and some coasting through the last few games. Take, for example, outfielder and leading hitter Bryant Packard, who came up limp running out a triple against UNC last Wednesday. The Pirates needed just one win to clinch and have such a deep roster anyway that they could afford to sit him the first two games of the series to be cautious. Not many lineups can sit its best hitter and be completely fine.
But you have that comfort when you also have the always-formidable Spencer Brickhouse, not to mention Alec Burleson, who has won back-to-back AAC player-of-the-week awards after hitting .400 with seven RBI against Wichita State. Freshman Lane Hoover is up to an 11-game hitting streak now. The list of contributors goes on.
So now, a midweek game against Campbell and a home series against Memphis stands in the way of ECU and the postseason. The Pirates will ride a ton of confidence into the conference tournament in Clearwater, Florida and I would be shocked if anyone took the regular season champs down and out.
What’s more important is what the team can do with its home regional, or super regional, this time around. Perhaps this can be the team to add another first onto coach Godwin’s resume.