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Cincinnati Next Up For (12)ECU

(12)East Carolina rolls into Cincinnati on Friday to take on Eric Santiago and Cincinnati.
(12)East Carolina rolls into Cincinnati on Friday to take on Eric Santiago and Cincinnati. (PirateIllustrated.com photo)

For the second time this season East Carolina will take on Cincinnati when they hit the road for a Friday double-header to open a pivotal four game road series at UC Baseball Stadium.

The Pirates enter the week ranked as high as 11th in two polls along with 12th and 13th in two others with an RPI of 15th, up from 16th last week.

“We’ve had a hell of a season to this point. It’s a hell of a year but as we know the back end of the season is most important when you put yourself in a good situation. Our guys are excited to play,” ECU head coach Cliff Godwin told PirateIllustrated.com, “They enjoy competing and getting out there and they know what’s at stake. It’s been a pretty mature group at this point. We’ve learned a lot of lessons the last couple of weekends. If we can continue to learn and get better then we’ll put ourselves in a good situation to go out there and play baseball in the postseason. Right now all of our goals are in front of us. We just need to go out and play well.”

Godwin came away pleased with the way things went last weekend against Tulane overall to flip the script and take over sole possession of first place in the AAC race.

“I’m just really proud of our guys this past weekend to be able to come out of the weekend 3-1 in a hard fought series with two of the best teams in the league,” said Godwin, “Going into the weekend we’re in second, coming out of the weekend we’re in first. The positive is everything is within our control. That’s what we talk about in our program all the time and that’s just focusing on what we can control.”

“Right now we control our own destiny. We need to play better on the road,” said a cautious Godwin, “I told our guys yesterday that if we go 4-4 these next two weekends is what I can promise you that we will not win the conference and we will not host a regional. I think our guys are excited. School is out. Our guys did a really good job in the classroom. The GPA will be high again and I’m really proud of the work they have put in in the class room.”

The Pirates will get a practice in on Wednesday morning before driving to Raleigh to get on a flight to Cincinnati where they will get in a practice before their AAC series with the Bearcats begins on Friday.

Godwin says Jake Kuchmaner will not start this week, but will likely see some action out of the bullpen as ECU works to get him back to playing like he is capable. Kuchmaner has embraced the challenge and has kept a positive attitude throughout the season even though things have not gone as hoped.

“He threw a bullpen yesterday and that’s the best bullpen he has thrown all year,” said Godwin, “His stuff was a lot better. Coach Dietrich and Coach Knight are working with him on that. He seemed pretty excited when he got done with the bullpen yesterday so that’s great to see.”

The last time ECU(33-10/15-5 AAC) and Cincinnati met, ECU swept the series winning 5-4 on April Fools Day before taking a pair of shutouts along with a 13-3 victory. Over the course of that weekend in early April in Greenville, the Pirates generated 36 hits and they will look to replicate that kind of effort again beginning on Friday against an improved Bearcat squad.

“I know they’re playing better just following the scores and the box scores. I do remember them being really tough to maneuver through offensively. They’re older offensively and they can do some things. Jace Mercer is having a great year. He’s one of the best players in the league,” Godwin said.

ECU’s 33-10 record is among the best ever at this stage of a season for the Pirates. Even though the team gets one less series since they were unable to play Houston, this could end up being one of the best seasons historically for the purple and gold. The 2019 team had a similar record in the Cliff Godwin era through forty-three games and only six other teams in the history of ECU baseball have done as well or better at this stage.

Godwin announced that Mooresville freshman pitcher Cam Clonch and one other freshman was out last week due to a positive Covid-19 test that has been determined to be isolated. He could be available if he tests negative this week and if so, he would fly to Cincinnati on Friday morning.

The Bearcats enter the weekend having won three of their four games last weekend at Houston and come in at 24-21 overall including 13-11 in AAC play. Cincinnati has been particularly effective at home with a 12-5 record and that will present it’s share of challenges for ECU.

Overall the Bearcats have proven to be a scrappy bunch at the plate. A group of three grad students are name brand names in the American in Joey Belini (.295), Jace Mercer (.367) and Eric Santiago (.290). Mercer has eight home runs to his credit so far this year along with ten doubles. Santiago comes in with six homers and 13 doubles and Paul Komistek (.371) has also been very effective with six round trippers this season.

“You’ve got to be able to change speeds, you’ve got to be able to pitch on both sides of the plate and that’s really pitching 101 when you’re facing good hitters and older hitters especially,” ECU head coach Cliff Godwin told PirateIllustrated.com, “You can’t get into patterns where they’re going to know what’s coming and they’re going to get good swings off. Get ahead of the hitters. Those are the things we’ll need to do.”

On the mound, the group of Zach Segal, Evan Shawver, A.J. Jones and Garrett Schoenle got the start last time around and Godwin talked about Cincinnati pitching in general.

“Their pitching, I remember a lot of lefties. (Evan) Shawver was banged up a little bit. He pitched two innings. I know he’ll be better. I’m assuming he’s going in game three for them. We’ll have our hands full. It’s not an easy place to play up there. It’s on turf. The park sometimes plays huge, sometimes it plays small depending the way the wind blows,” said Godwin.

This weekend’s important AAC baseball series opens with a double-header beginning at 1 o’clock on Friday. Saturday’s game is at 4 pm and the final game of the series will take place on Sunday with a high noon first pitch at UC Baseball Stadium.

Stay tuned for continuing coverage of East Carolina - Cincinnati here on PirateIllustrated.com.