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TAB: Godwin brings ECU to SEC country

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East Carolina baseball coach Cliff Godwin during an NCAA college baseball news conference, Thursday, May 28, 2015, in Coral Gables, Fla. ECU plays Columbia on Friday in an regional tournament game. (AP Photo/J Pat Carter)

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By Ronnie Woodward
The Daily Reflector

Friday, February 17, 2017

In college baseball, trips to Omaha, Neb., for the College World Series are unforgettable. 

East Carolina’s Cliff Godwin, an ECU alumnus and the Pirates’ third-year head coach, has been to the CWS twice, the last trip coming in 2014 when he was on Mike Bianco's staff at Mississippi. The other also came when Godwin was an assistant for a Southeastern Conference team, for LSU's Paul Mainieri in 2008.

Godwin is back in SEC country this weekend with the Pirates, who many view as the favorites for their series at Ole Miss. The Pirates will field one of the most veteran clubs in the country and they carry a No. 6 ranking from Baseball America, which didn't rank Ole Miss in the preseason despite its strong national profile and the fact that it went 43-19 a season ago and was an NCAA regional host.

"It's going to be mixed emotions for me, because personally I have a lot of fond memories," Godwin said of Ole Miss, which is ranked No. 8 by Perfect Game but has unpredictability attached to it because it lost key players from its 2016 team. "When I say that, it's not that I'm not going to go in there with my best foot forward, but one of my best friends in the world (Rebels assistant coach Carl Lafferty) is in that other dugout and I know how hard he works and how hard coach Bianco works.

"I recruited some of those players to Ole Miss to play, and we went to Omaha. But I'm excited for our kids to get to go and experience such a great environment and that atmosphere.”

At age 49 and entering his 17th season with the Rebels, Bianco is the winningest coach in Ole Miss baseball history. He helped mold his counterpart for this weekend, who is 10 years younger and went 78-44-1 in his first two seasons in charge at East Carolina.

The atmosphere in Oxford will be similar to what ECU faced last year in the NCAA tournament, when it knocked off defending national champion Virginia in Charlottesville, Va., in the regional round before battling with Texas Tech in Lubbock, Texas, in the super regionals. The core of ECU’s team is back, including fifth-year senior catcher Travis Watkins and two former freshman All-Americans in junior closer Joe Ingle and sophomore outfielder Dwanya Williams-Sutton.

This will be the first time East Carolina spends opening weekend on the road since 2008, when it went 1-2 at South Carolina.

"It is exciting because there is outside hype around it, but we always talk about ignoring the noise and it's just a regular weekend and the first weekend of the year," senior second baseman Charlie Yorgen said.

While ECU comes in with Yorgen and eight other seniors, the Rebels have only two on their roster and could be led by underclassmen. The Rebs did bring in a No. 1-ranked recruiting class, and at least a few of those rookies are expected to be starters.

Like ECU with seniors Evan Kruczynski and Jacob Wolfe, Ole Miss returns two key returning pitching rotation members in junior David Parkinson and sophomore James McArthur. It is mainly on offense where today's home team will feature new faces, but Godwin is familiar with some of them.

"All of those freshmen are very talented," he said. "I helped recruit Grae Kessinger, who is going to start at shortstop, and helped recruit Thomas Dillard, who will probably DH or play in the outfield. ... So I feel pretty familiar with what is going on."

Godwin said his coaching style was cultivated even dating back to when he played for his father, Lewis, at Greene Central High School and as a catcher for coach Keith LeClair and the Pirates from 1998-2001. All of that preceded an impressive rise up the ranks when he was an assistant and went from Vanderbilt to Notre Dame to LSU to Central Florida and then Ole Miss from 2011-14.

"If you added up all those head coaches’ wins in college baseball, you would have a lot," Godwin said. "I have picked their brains with a little bit of everybody, and then obviously put my own touch to it. That's one thing I'm blessed about, because I've worked for a ton of head coaches who are very successful."

Contact Ronnie Woodward at rwoodward@reflector.com, 252-329-9592 or follow @RonnieW11 on Twitter.

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