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WOODWARD: Reaching NCAAs remains key

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East Carolina head coach Cliff Godwin (23) and others watch from the home dugout during a game against Central Florida on April 14, 2017.

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BY RONNIE WOODWARD
The Daily Reflector

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The graphic popped up multiple times during Sunday afternoon’s ESPNews broadcast of East Carolina vs. Houston in the American Athletic Conference baseball championship game as the Pirates were trying to complete a title run as the last and No. 8 seed in Clearwater, Fla.

It read that ECU has been to 28 NCAA tournaments but never to Omaha, Neb., for the College World Series, which tops the list as the school with the most NCAA appearances without ever making the CWS.

Houston won and one day later, the Pirates were expectedly not included when the 64-team NCAA tournament field was announced.

As the Pirates transition away from a difficult and hard-to-explain season that featured unforeseen major injuries and bullpen issues but also nearly ended on a high note, it is important to understand the complexity of the balance in that graphic.

ECU’s program has been built on making regionals, not making it to Omaha because the latter has never happened. It is very difficult to make the College World Series and requires some luck, and there was some sense early in the season as the CWS being an expectation for East Carolina, which can be a dangerous situation.

The pressure only built as the season progressed, a national ranking went away and an 0-10 start in AAC play made it that the Pirates had to win the conference tournament to extend their season.

But it also was after then when a lot of the pressure was gone and the team played better and more relaxed. There was an eye on preparing for the AAC tourney.

The success in Clearwater, Fla., stemmed from that preparation and also because the nine seniors who have enjoyed plenty of postseason success likely knew what was at stake. That was a good sign for ECU and it showed an understanding that making regionals is at the heart of the program.

ECU is 2-for-3 in making the NCAA tournament under coach Cliff Godwin.

A big NCAA run last summer ended with a feeling of wanting more when the Pirates fell one hit away from Omaha. That brought about unprecedented hype and pressure for this year.

The end result was an empty feeling Monday, because East Carolina has a proud program that is set up to make regionals and that remains for the future. It just didn’t happen this year, even with ECU entering the season as a top-10 team.

Oregon State and North Carolina are the top two teams in the country this season. Neither made the NCAA field a year ago.

One very odd spring by the Pirates shouldn’t change their trajectory, and there’s no doubt that returning to the postseason and adding to the number of NCAA appearances is a focus moving forward. As that continues, the trip to Omaha eventually will take care of itself.

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

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