Tyler Smith

Sophomore pitcher Tyler Smith on the mound during a previous game.

Before East Carolina University’s baseball team’s American Athletic Conference weekend series started with the University of Houston on Friday, both teams were tied for first place in the conference, and fans were chattering about possibly hosting a regional.

Three days later, Houston sits alone at the top of the conference while ECU sits tied for fourth place with the University of Cincinnati after being swept by Houston.

The AAC is a place where the standings can change big and in a hurry. It’s difficult for teams to get comfortable. ECU went into the weekend series ranked at No. 7 in the Baseball America national poll while the Cougars were unranked. Now, ECU is No. 12 and Houston is No. 21.

Houston (28-16, 13-5 AAC) has now won seven straight AAC games, including back-to-back sweeps over ranked conference teams, Wichita State University and now ECU. ECU (30-12, 8-7 AAC) has lost seven straight games against Houston, and is 1-5 this season against the top two teams of the AAC: Houston and the University of South Florida.

ECU was simply-outplayed by Houston in the series, and ECU was not its usual self. ECU played good and would have won the opener on Friday if it had not lost control in innings four, five and six when Houston scored all five of its runs in a 5-4 win. ECU was only outscored 9-6 in the next two losses, but, according to head coach Cliff Godwin, that could be misleading and “it wasn’t really that close.”

Brady Lloyd, Jake Washer and Connor Litton are the second, third and fourth ranked Pirate batters in terms of batting average, but all combined to go 5-for-32 in the series with Houston. The team staff missed the innings and presence which Chris Holba gives, and the team’s undefeated record in games which he starts.

Despite all of this looking bad for the Pirates, this could end up being a good thing for them. The team’s confidence in itself wasn’t lost because of the sweep to Houston, as shown by outfielder Bryant Packard stating that ECU is still the better team after Sunday’s game.

“Houston is a great team, but we’re better,” Packard said after facing Houston. “It’s not the team that’s the best that wins, it’s the team that plays the best that wins. They played way better than we did this weekend.”

Those fired up along with Packard included Godwin, who said on Sunday following the 6-5 loss in the series finale that he was sorry the fans had to see the lack of energy the team played with in the last two games of the series. Godwin added the team was going to play much differently come next weekend.

“(Today) really wasn’t that close. I’m embarrassed we played the way we played today,” Godwin said. “I’m the head coach, it’s my fault because they weren’t ready to play. It’s as an uninspired of a baseball game that I’ve been associated with here at East Carolina and the one thing I can promise you is that we will play inspired baseball on Friday night. We will get through exams, have a few days off and then we will have nothing but baseball and we will play inspired baseball come next Friday night.”

That’s a telling statement from a head coach following a game, including a promise fans can expect to be kept. It’s impossible to know if ECU has started paying too much attention to standings and possible postseason locations but one thing is for sure: ECU needs to get back to the level it is capable of as shown by wins over three ranked teams; No. 23 USF, No. 11 Duke, and No. 5 North Carolina.

ECU has an opportunity to get back to its winning ways against Tulane University this weekend. Tulane is currently seventh in the AAC, but can’t be overlooked as it just took two out of three games from Houston three weekends ago.

After Tulane, ECU has non-conference games with a sub .500 Norfolk State team and a good University of North Carolina at Wilmington team, but one that ECU has beaten this season already. Now is a good time for ECU to get back to its best baseball, and with Godwin and Packard, amongst others, fired up after that Houston series, you can expect the Pirates to certainly come inspired and ready to play as Godwin promised.

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