“On the road to get 1% better.” That motto is written on East Carolina University head baseball coach Cliff Godwin’s Twitter profile. More than just words and pixels on a screen, however, that is the mindset Godwin brings and expects from his players each day.
“You have to educate the guys, even the older guys, every single day on what it takes to win a National Championship and to play in the College World Series and to have consistent performances that allow you to win 20 games in the conference,” Godwin said on Wednesday during media day.
Entering his sixth season at the helm of the Pirates, Godwin faces some interesting challenges. More than just facing a schedule that includes Duke University and the University of North Carolina, both of which figure to be forces in the Atlantic Coast Conference once again, Godwin and his coaching staff also welcomed a slew of newcomers to the 2020 roster.
Totaling 18, a mix of junior college and true freshman talent will attempt to replenish a roster that lost seven players to the Major League Baseball draft.
“I thought coach (Jeff) Palumbo, coach (Jason) Dietrich, coach (Austin) Knight, the entire coaching staff did a really good job getting the new guys acclimated to our system and understanding the fundamentals of what we need to do to be successful,” Godwin said.
Teaching players how to be successful at the Division I level and doing it with new additions to the coaching staff can present possible challenges for any team.
Dietrich, the Pirates’ first-year pitching coach, will inherit a stable of talented starting pitchers that rival the best in the nation. Junior left-handed pitcher Jake Kuchmaner, junior right-handed pitcher Gavin Williams and senior right-handed pitcher Tyler Smith project to be ECU’s weekend rotation, barring injury or unforeseen circumstances.
With that experience returned, the Pirates welcomed many new faces to the pitching staff, including freshman left-handed pitcher C.J. Mayhue, junior left-handed pitcher Elijah Gill and freshman left-handed pitcher A.J. Wilson. Those names, accompanied by the remaining fresh names on the roster, poise a challenge to Dietrich who changed coasts for his new job.
“It’s been continuously going,” Dietrich said. “As soon as you get here, my job has been to get to know these guys. Coach Godwin, coach Palumbo, they’ve filled me in, they’ve given me all the information on each guy. So my job is to continuously grow and build that individual relationship with each guy.”
Dietrich, who was Collegiate Baseball’s 2016 Pitching Coach-of-the-Year, racked up three years of experience at the University of Oregon and another three at Cal State Fullerton before joining Godwin’s staff in August of 2019.
As would be the case on any roster, with so much newness, roles are still being worked on as the Pirates enter their preseason schedule. With nine intrasquad scrimmages separating ECU from Opening Day, additional innings will be what adds definition to the pitching hierarchy.
“I’m really excited for the preseason and the three weeks coming up,” associate head coach Jeff Palumbo said. “That’s a huge piece of how these guys fit together and really a whole added piece to it is the coaching staff. We spend a lot of time just talking in the office about ‘hey these are the guys, this is what they bring to the table’ and how could we maximize those things and try to paint that picture for a lot of the guys.”
The Pirates’ inexperience fails to stop on the pitching side of things. Freshman infielder/right-handed pitcher Zach Agnos, the younger brother of Jake, junior catcher Ben Newton and freshman infielder/outfielder Alec Makarewicz are just a few of the new names attempting to make an impact with their bat.
For a team that finished second in the American Athletic Conference in team batting average last season, however, preseason All-American and AAC Player-of-the-Year Alec Burleson is set to be a cornerstone. In his draft-eligible year as a junior, it will be up to Burleson and some other veterans on the roster to set an example for the newcomers.
“It’s a work in progress,” Godwin said. “It’s harder to sustain success than to have success for the first time. It’s just human nature, everybody wants to get comfortable and think just because you put on the East Carolina uniform that you’re going to host a regional.”
Despite five NCAA super regional appearances, including last year, the Pirates are setting their goals at lofty heights for the 2020 season and for good reason.
Picked to win the AAC again and ranked by four preseason polls, ECU has the opportunity to once again make some noise within college baseball. At the top, that begins and ends with Godwin’s installment of the culture that courses through the veins of his program.
Never satisfied unless his Pirates are hoisting the National Championship trophy at seasons end, Godwin once again has ECU on a trajectory of success in 2020.
“We just want to be the best version of ourselves, individually and as a group,” Godwin said.
ECU baseball will begin its three-week preseason practice schedule on Friday and hold nine scrimmages in advance of Opening Day. On Feb. 14, the Pirates will welcome the College of William & Mary to Clark-LeClair Stadium for the first of a three-game set. First pitch is scheduled for 4 p.m.