E. Carolina primed to make another run at ending CWS drought

East Carolina continues to show it’s one of the most complete teams in college baseball, going 5-0 last week with a four-game sweep of Cincinnati in its American Athletic Conference opening series.

The Pirates have been consistent winners under seventh-year coach Cliff Godwin. They came up just short of a College World Series appearance in 2016, had 44- and 47-win seasons in 2018-19 and were 13-4 when the pandemic shut down the season last year.

East Carolina is 22-5 going into this week’s series against Memphis, the program’s best start since 2009.

“We said from the beginning, we’re as good as any team we’ve ever had here on paper,” Godwin said Monday. “But as you know, paper doesn’t mean anything. Our guys, with a hiccup here and there, are showing up with great intent and energy and executing whatever our plan is for that day. If we continue to do that, I think we’ll be in good shape.”

East Carolina was ranked as high as No. 8 in the polls this week after five straight home wins. The week started with an 11-10 walk-off win over North Carolina — avenging an 8-1 loss in Chapel Hill on March 23 — and ended with four straight against Cincinnati.

The Pirates batted .352 in the five games, with five homers and nine doubles. Against Cincinnati, the bullpen combined for 15 shutout innings with 25 strikeouts, and the defense was strong throughout.

East Carolina has five everyday players batting at least .309, and the team average of .297 ranks in the top 20. Connor Norby is batting .438 with eight homers and 28 RBIs, and Seth Cadell has nine homers and 32 RBIs.

Freshman left-hander Carson Whisenhunt is 4-0 in six starts, Jake Kuchmaner has a better than 10-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, freshman C.J. Mayhue is 2-1 with five saves and the staff is among the national leaders with 11.1 strikeouts per nine innings.

The lineup should get a boost this week with the return of right fielder Lane Hoover, an offensive catalyst who was injured in an outfield collision Feb. 27.

The Pirates were one hit away from winning their super regional at Texas Tech five years ago and reaching the College World Series for the first time. They have the nation’s longest drought of 30 NCAA regional appearances without making the CWS.

“We’re not going to be judged if we make it to Omaha or not,” Godwin said, “because no team here has gotten there. That’s where we all want to go, and we all want to compete for a national championship. If we develop the young men in our program to the best of our ability, us getting to the College World Series will take care of itself.”

IN THE POLLS

Vanderbilt (23-3) got two more dominant starts from Kumar Rocker and Jack Leiter in a three-game sweep of LSU and remained No. 1 in the D1Baseball.com and Collegiate Baseball newspaper rankings.

Arkansas (22-4) is No. 1 by Baseball America and No. 2 by D1Baseball and Collegiate Baseball.

Mississippi (21-6) is No. 3 by D1Baseball and Baseball America, and Texas (20-8) is No. 3 by Collegiate Baseball.

BAIER BLASTS AWAY

Sam Baier of Division II Augustana (South Dakota) hit seven home runs in a doubleheader against Bemidji (Minnesota) State on Friday.

The fifth-year senior from Springfield, Minnesota, in the opener became the 25th player in NCAA history to hit four homers in a game. He went deep three more times in the nightcap, and the Vikings finished the 21-0 and 24-0 wins with 15 homers.

Baier, the Vikings’ shortstop and cleanup hitter, went 11 for 15 with 10 runs, 16 RBIs and two doubles in addition to the seven homers in the three-game series. His season batting average went from .311 to .417, and he now has 18 homers in 206 career games.

K IS THE WAY FOR LONSWAY

Ohio State lefty Seth Lonsway struck out a career-high 17 and allowed two hits in a seven-inning 6-0 win over Indiana on Saturday. Buckeyes pitchers combined for 11 more strikeouts in a 5-2 win in the second game of the doubleheader. The Buckeyes posted a four-game sweep against the Hoosiers, who had entered the weekend leading the Big Ten.

BIG BOUNCE-BACK

Kansas State rebounded from a 17-1 loss in the opener to take two of three games from a top-five Texas Tech team.

Jordan Wicks, the sophomore lefty who came into the season as a projected first-round draft pick, had his second straight tough outing for the Wildcats. He worked out of trouble the first two innings, then gave up back-to-back homers in the third and left after five innings having allowed five runs.

The Wildcats came back to win 7-2 and 10-4, getting a combined 23 hits and walking 11 times.

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