What a great season it has been when you spend the last few games breaking records on a seemingly daily basis. That’s exactly how its been for the ECU baseball team.
The Pirates series win over Memphis this past weekend helped take care of a few more. ECU is now the record holder for the most wins in American Athletic Conference league play history, after getting conference win No. 20 in Friday’s 5-3 win. The 20-4 record in AAC play separated them from the 2014 Louisville team. The 42-13 record is also the best ECU has managed in a regular season.
The Pirates were easily the AAC regular season champs for the first time and were awarded the trophies on the field after Saturday’s loss. They head into Clearwater, Florida as the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament, seeking their third conference tournament championship (2015, 2018).
Thursday night’s series opener was all about Jake Agnos, yet still about records. Agnos set the ECU and AAC single-season record for strikeouts. The bullpen struggled mightily after he left, leading to the 19-10 final score but Agnos still got a well-deserved curtain call later in the game when his record was announced.
How did the Pirates put together the best regular season ever, under fifth-year head coach Cliff Godwin or otherwise?
It seems like forever ago that ECU began the season in trouble. ECU came into the season with big expectations after hosting a regional last season. It started out rocky, though, despite ECU sweeping the first series of the season against Radford. ECU then lost to in-state foe Campbell and then lost the series finale against Monmouth that weekend. ECU lost another midweek game, this time against Air Force. A loss against Wright State in the LeClair Classic and another against then-top-10 Mississippi State left the Pirates 8-5 in the first 13 games.
What was worse about the record was the teams. Campbell is 66 in RPI and projected for the Greenville Regional. Wright State is 79, however, and Air Force is 120 and Monmouth… 232.
That’s not the end of the world for some teams but a team with the College World Series expectations that ECU and fans largely set on themselves, it wasn’t good. Fans were critical of everything going on around the athletics golden program. It still wasn’t the end of the world, but this was ECU fans only hope of postseason success right now. Thankfully for them, the Pirates didn’t disappoint.
From that 8-5 record, ECU went 17-2 in its next 19 games, including winning streaks of four, 10 and three. The Pirates swept four consecutive weekend series in that span and started AAC play 8-1 to bounce back for the season. Then came the anticipated weekend series against the No. 1 UCLA Bruins.
That didn’t go well. ECU was swept out in Los Angeles. The Pirates were competitive for the most part in two out of the three losses, if not all three. The difference is that, as Godwin and the players pointed out, the margin of error is razor thin against the top-ranked team in the country. That series sweep had the potential to wreck the momentum ECU had built up.
But it didn’t. ECU gained renewed edge and motivation from it and rattled off eight straight wins after Los Angeles. That stretch turned into 15-4 to end the season and a record-setting win column. The AAC competition never gave ECU any match as the Pirates won all eight conference series throughout the season.
ECU had plenty of individual success to go along with the team success of course. Jake Kuchmaner threw the 29th perfect game in college baseball history against Maryland. Agnos set the aforementioned strikeout records and is a semifinalist for Pitcher-of-the-Year. Alec Burleson broke out, beginning the year as a starting pitcher but turning into whenever needed type reliever. He hit well throughout the entire period, earning semifinalist honors so far for the best Two-Way player award in college baseball.
Spencer Brickhouse and Bryant Packard were what you expected, despite Packard having to deal with a myriad of injuries. The list goes on, ECU has depth. So much so, that anytime somebody was inserted into the lineup or on the mound this year they largely came through.
The only bad aspect of the season you could possibly come up with still is that the UCLA series still hangs over the Pirates season in a way. ECU is 5-5 against teams that were top-25 at the time of the matchup. That seems to be what keeps ECU from a top-eight national seed and hosting a super regional as of right now.
That doesn’t take away from a record-setting season from the ECU Pirates. It is so impressive because the regular season is more reflective of how good a team is. This is the third 40-win season for ECU since 2015. This shows ECU is one of the better baseball teams in the country. ECU flamed out in the Greenville Regional last postseason, but the NCAA Tournament is designed for crazy things to happen, not for the best team to always win.
They might not be done. No team has ever won back-to-back AAC conference tournaments, and the Pirates are set up to do just that. Either way, they are surely one of the more dangerous teams in the NCAA going into the postseason.