East Carolina head coach Cliff Godwin, watching the action during a game in Clark-LeClair Stadium in March 2016, has his Pirates ranked in nearly every national poll as the 2017 season is set to begin Feb. 17.
Walter Powell | 247Sports
Josh King, shown during an interview at East Carolina football media day in August 2016, has left his position as running backs coach for the Pirates. Four assistant coaches have left head coach Scottie Montgomery's staff since the end of the season.
Ericka Bretnall | 247Sports
By Stephen Igoe
Special to the Times
High expectations are running rampant for East Carolina’s baseball team, but with just more than a week until the season opener, head coach Cliff Godwin knows he and his team have plenty of work to do before its Feb. 17 opener at Ole Miss.
Ranked as high as No. 6 to as low as 13th in the college baseball preseason polls, Godwin’s squad is in the midst of preseason practice and heading towards their final scrimmage weekend of February before departing next week for Oxford, Mississippi, and a top-25 showdown with the Rebels.
The Pirates return their entire starting infield, including 2016 postseason hero Travis Watkins, who smacked three home runs in ECU’s NCAA tournament run to a Super Regional at Texas Tech, while ace Evan Kruczysnki, closer Joe Ingle, and freshman All-American outfielder Dwanya Williams-Sutton also return.
The Pirates also added a talent-filled recruiting class that was ranked in the top 25 nationally.
So how is all of it meshing with the season opener bearing down? Pretty good, according to Godwin.
“I think we’re better today than when we opened practice,” said Godwin, heading into his third year with the program. “The younger guys have done a little bit better job on the mound. The position players have done a great job. It’s been fun to watch.
“I think if we had to play this weekend, we could, which is always good. There’s just a few more things we have to freshen up on as far as bunt defense, pick-offs and first-and-third stuff. Other than that, we’re ready.”
While the start of a new season is enough reason for excitement in itself, the Pirates’ home stadium is also receiving some major upgrades.
Clark-LeClair Stadium’s scoreboard has been completely renovated and built into a modern, all-electronic scorekeeping device with a radar gun, while the foul territory area has been completely remodeled with brand new turf for maintenance purposes.
There will also be signage added throughout the stadium prior to the team’s home opener against La Salle on Feb. 24 to recognize past program accomplishments.
“The new scoreboard being cut on today made it feel a little bit more real,” Godwin said on Tuesday. “It’s awesome. We’re excited about that, but we still have some days to get prepared and we’re just focused on getting a little better every single day.”
East Carolina will open its season without its senior starting first baseman.
Bryce Harman, the owner of 18 career home runs, will be sidelined to start the year after sustaining a wrist injury late last week.
Godwin said prior to Tuesday’s practice Harman will miss the opening series against Ole Miss that begins Feb. 17.
“He’s going to be out for a few weeks, and he definitely won’t be available for Ole Miss,” Godwin said. “Then we’ll be able re-evaluate him. He’s got a wrist injury and he will be out some time, but it will not be an extended amount of time.”
Harman batted .242 in 2016, but reached base at a .379 clip, hit four homers, and was one of the league’s top defensive first basemen.
True freshman Spencer Brickhouse, a highly-touted, left-handed slugging freshman, will man first while Harman is out, while senior Kirk Morgan is also taking some reps behind him.
“Brickhouse has done a great job and he’s gotten a lot better at first the last few weeks,” Godwin said. “Morgan will also be an option there. So those are the two guys to look for there.”
The 6-foot-4, 226-pound Brickhouse batted .548 over his career at Bunn High School, which ranks second all-time in NCHSAA history.
TWO MORE ASSISTANTS LEAVE
An offseason of coaching staff turnover continued for second-year ECU football head coach Scottie Montgomery shortly after last week’s National Signing Day.
Phil McGeoghan, who was teammates in the NFL with Montgomery during his time with the Denver Broncos, left his wide receivers coach post at East Carolina to take the same position with the Buffalo Bills.
McGeoghan was previously with the Miami Dolphins from 2012-15 before joining Montgomery for his first year at ECU.
The Pirates also learned earlier this week they would be without running backs coach Antonio King, who decided to leave the program after just one year. King previously held the head coaching position at Durham Hillside High School.
It’s unknown at this time where King’s next move will be.
The losses of McGeoghan and King bring ECU’s full-time staff changes under Montgomery this offseason to four. Long-time defensive backs coach Rick Smith announced his retirement and was replaced by 36-year-old Brandon Lynch, a former assistant and associate head coach at Northern Iowa, while defensive line coach Deke Adams left for North Carolina and his position was filled by former Cincinnati assistant Robert Prunty.
Montgomery is conducting interviews for the wide receivers position this week, according to sources, though a replacement has yet to be officially named.
Stephen Igoe is the publisher of the East Carolina 247Sports website Hoist The Colours. Check out more of his work at eastcarolina.247sports.com.