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WOODWARD: Bad ending for great team

NCAA East Carolina Louisville Baseball
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East Carolina baseball coach Cliff Godwin makes a pitching change with Evan Odum as junior first baseman Spencer Brickhouse (42) looks on during ECU's 14-1 loss at Louisville on Friday. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

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BY RONNIE WOODWARD
The Daily Reflector

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

LOUISVILLE, Ky.

East Carolina alum Cliff Godwin was hired as ECU’s 16th head baseball coach on June 25, 2014, and within a week, he and the Pirates received a verbal commitment from a local standout in D.H. Conley High School star hitter Bryant Packard.

In the following weeks and months, ECU received commitments from power hitter Spencer Brickhouse from Zebulon and talented pitchers Trey Benton (Cerro Gordo) and Jake Agnos (Haymarket, Va.). They formed the nucleus for a recruiting class that oozed with potential and promise.

A storybook ending for the Pirates’ outgoing players this year would have been a dogpile at Jim Patterson Stadium to celebrate the school’s first-ever trip to Omaha, Neb., for the College World Series, but not all stories have perfect endings. It was Louisville that clearly was superior Friday and Saturday with 14-1 and 12-0 victories, respectively, to end the careers of ECU's seniors and some of its juniors like Packard and Agnos and Brickhouse.

The total score of 26-1 not only resulted in a fifth super regional series defeat dealt to the Pirates, but it was their largest run differential by a wide margin. It once again proved the value in East Carolina potentially hosting a super regional in Clark-LeClair Stadium instead of having to travel to the opponent for a best-of-three series.

The Omaha-or-bust narrative is still fresh on many minds and would suggest that ECU’s upperclassmen who are moving on to the next phase of their lives failed, but that narrative also excludes what this group did accomplish.

ECU absolutely dominated the American Athletic Conference this season in setting a new league standard with a 20-4 AAC record. The Pirates rallied to win the Greenville Regional while serving as a regional host in consecutive years for the first time in school history.

It was fourth-year catcher Jake Washer, one of five Pirate juniors selected in last week’s Major League Baseball draft, who clobbered baseballs at Clark-LeClair Stadium as the star of the regional en route to finishing the season with 17 home runs. Agnos smiled often as he set new AAC single-season (145) and career (295) records for strikeouts.

Packard’s personality shined while producing a batting average of .406 as a sophomore and .358 as a junior. Steady senior shortstop Turner Brown finished his career with 261 starts.

These players will always be connected tightly to Godwin and his first few weeks in his first head coaching gig back in 2014, which the passionate coach was cognizant of in his postgame news conference Saturday afternoon even after a frustrating shutout loss by the Pirates.

“I don’t have children, but these are my boys right here,” Godwin said. “I can go to sleep every night when I have kids like these. I am so proud of what they accomplished this entire year.”

It will be difficult for the Pirates to replace their six outgoing seniors and likely most if not all of the five juniors who were drafted and will soon begin their professional careers.

No program knows more than East Carolina how difficult it can be to reach the College World Series.

There also is no guarantee how much longer ECU will continue to keep its coaching and support staff fully intact.

There will be new players moving to the forefront next season, which coincidentally includes younger brothers Zach Agnos and Cody Benton coming in as potential impact freshmen, and a new year will bring about new challenges and successes.

This season is over, and it featured plenty of ups and a downer in Louisville. This team’s season ended in Louisville instead of Omaha, which is a necessary note in its story but does not tell the entire story.

Contact Ronnie Woodward at rwoodward@reflector.com, 252-329-9592 and follow @RonnieW11 on Twitter.

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