CHAPEL HILL — It’s beyond debate that college baseball in North Carolina is more fun when East Carolina has a good team. Having the Pirates marauding around, knocking off ACC teams and ruffling comfortable feathers, makes things more interesting for everyone, just as it does in football.
The question East Carolina has to answer is this: Is making the NCAA tournament good enough? Or do the Pirates have to aim higher?
“You gotta understand, everybody is frustrated,” East Carolina coach Billy Godwin said. “Nobody is more frustrated than me.”
This somewhat inadvertently became a subject of debate Sunday as the Pirates were eliminated from the NCAA tournament at the hands of North Carolina, with Tar Heels coach Mike Fox delivering an impassioned statement in support of his old friend Godwin, who in seven years in Greenville has a 10-11 record in NCAA tournament games.
Fox begged East Carolina’s fans to “leave Billy alone,” alluding to the pressure created by a fifth-place finish in Conference USA after East Carolina opened the season 15-4, including a home win over N.C. State, but went 21-20-1 the rest of the way, concluding with Sunday’s 5-3 loss to North Carolina, the Pirates’ 15th straight against the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill.
Fox’s impromptu defense of his former assistant coach at North Carolina Wesleyan prompted later questions to Godwin about the state of the program, to which Godwin replied with equal passion.
“We’ve just got to find a way to continue to play well, well enough to host, like we did in 2009 when we won our regional,” Godwin said.
Only three times in the program’s history has East Carolina made it to a super regional. Each time, the Pirates hosted a regional as the No. 1 seed, in Wilson in 2001, Kinston in 2004 and, under Godwin, Greenville in 2009. The Pirates faced North Carolina in Chapel Hill that year, losing 10-1 and 9-3.
But Godwin said Omaha, and the program’s first College World Series appearance, remains the goal, and that the program remains on the right track. As he spoke, East Carolina athletic director Terry Holland, who named Godwin interim coach in 2005 before promoting him to the permanent role, watched from the back of the room.
“These guys that come in here, that we recruit, they believe that,” Godwin said. “Sometimes it’s frustrating. Our program has been to 26 regionals and we haven’t gotten to the big dance yet. My position is I’m fully convinced this is going to happen. We just have to keep grinding, keep working.”
As Godwin talked, sophomore designated hitter Drew Reynolds nodded his head.
“I agree 100 percent with what he said,” Reynolds said. “We feel the same way in the locker room.”
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