The University of Central Florida beat the East Carolina University baseball team in game one of the best-of-three series, defeating the Pirates 9-1 at home Friday.

If there’s anything we’ve learned about East Carolina University’s baseball team, it’s that it has showed an impressive amount of grit, heart and mental toughness at various moments throughout the season so far, earning them a top-25 national ranking in the poll.

The Pirates didn’t spend their spring break the way most students and faculty at ECU did, grinding out six games over the ten day break, as one against the College of Charleston was cancelled. But the Pirates did not come out with their usual intensity in the first game, resulting in a 12-2 beatdown at the hands of underdog Pepperdine University (7-9).

According to head coach Cliff Godwin, the Pirates weren’t ready to play because they assumed it would be an easy win based on the poor performances of Pepperdine early this season.

“The guys looked at the score from the Campbell-Pepperdine game (15-2 Campbell) and thought we could just roll the balls out there and win,” Godwin said. “The best team doesn't always win, it's the team that plays the best that wins and Pepperdine played way better than we did.”

ECU lost the next day to Missouri State University (8-5), the first back-to-back losses this season. But, instead of getting discouraged by the losing streak, the Pirates showed their resiliency, rolling through the rest of week with five-straight victories.

What’s arguably the most impressive part of the Pirates’ winning streak is how they overcame adversity in their first double-header, on the road at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte (8-7) on Saturday afternoon. ECU entered the ninth inning of game one with a four-run advantage but saw its lead cut to one because of two fielding errors from the Pirate defense.

Freshman right hander Alec Burleson, who pitched the ninth inning, eventually recorded the final out to secure the win.

Then in game two of of its double-header, ECU let go off all the previous mistakes by dominating Charlotte 12-2 and completing the series sweep. Burleson, who shouldered the pressure of closing out the last game, embodied the resilience of the team with his offensive performance in game two, recording a game-high four RBI on three hits and one run scored.

Overall, ECU proved why it earned its top-25 national ranking since being named No. 18 in the country following its 2-1 series win against then No. 6 UNC Chapel Hill (8-7) on Feb. 26. The Pirates were 4-0 before that series, but all wins came against lowly Western Carolina University (1-14) and Campbell University (6-9) teams where they had at least a five run lead by the fourth inning in each game. At the time, nobody was sure how good of a team ECU was.

In game one versus UNC back on Feb. 23, 5,382 fans were in attendance at Clark-Leclair Stadium, the third most in stadium history. That kind of passion from the fans creates the opportunity for ECU to have a noticeable home field advantage for the team to feed off. ECU maintained just a one run lead for most of the game, with starting sophomore right handed pitcher Trey Benton and sophomore right handed reliever Tyler Smith remaining unfazed by the pressure and threw up almost all zeros to secure a 2-1 victory.

ECU rode the momentum to the Durham Bulls Athletic Park for game two, but were unable to rekindle the hot pitching from game one. Playing in a Triple A ballpark allowed these collegiate players an opportunity to experience a professional ballpark, which potentially caused some early jitters for the Pirates. Even though UNC jumped out to a 3-0 lead early, the Pirates showed their grit and climbed out of the hole to grab a brief lead before eventually falling 5-4.

This tough loss led to a 12-0 demolition of the Tar Heels the next day on their home field of Boshamer Stadium. It was evident that even when the Pirates face adversity, they have the resiliency to regroup and come out a much better team in the next game, a winning quality lacking last season.

“We’re a gritty blue-collared team and that’s the identity that we want to create. We couldn’t have played worst in the first four innings (in game two) but we got right back into the game and I’m really proud how we handled that this weekend,” starting pitcher Chris Holba said after game three versus UNC.

In their first game as the No. 18 team in the country, the Pirates lived up to their ranking, beating Old Dominion University (5-9) 10-3 in a relatively easy victory for ECU. What impressed Godwin the most about the win is how the Pirates maintained their level of intensity from the UNC series.

“I was worried about us coming of the high on Sunday to practice on Tuesday, but I thought practice was awesome,” Godwin said after the ODU game. “Guys really got after it and I thought the intent and energy was really good.”

As the Pirates continue to show how good they are, it’s important to remember how ECU’s early success is a direct reflection of the mindset Godwin implemented throughout the offseason. Not thinking ahead to the postseason and taking it one day at a time is exactly how this team is playing right now. If the Pirates keep that mindset all season long, not only will they be a force in the American Athletic Conference, but in all of college baseball.

ECU looks to add to its winning streak when it starts a five-game homestand this afternoon at 4 p.m. in a weekday battle against Virginia Commonwealth University with sophomore left handed pitcher Jake Agnos (1-1, 6.39 ERA) set to take the mound for the Pirates.

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