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Sophomores stepping up for Pirates

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East Carolina's Dusty Baker slides into third base during a game against Tulane on April 28, 2017.

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By RONNIE WOODWARD
The Daily Reflector

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

East Carolina baseball made program history by posting nationally ranked recruiting classes last year and this year, which has talented underclassmen who received Major League Baseball draft interest set for prominent roles with the Pirates.

Fourth-year coach Cliff Godwin, whose team will conclude fall workouts with the annual Purple-Gold World Series on Thursday (3:15 p.m.), Friday (4 p.m.) and Saturday (1 p.m.) at Clark-LeClair Stadium, has also been pleased to see his sophomores step up and be more vocal. In terms of the fall, those intangible aspects could be just as important or more important than actual performances during workouts.

“The biggest thing is just leadership and this sophomore class has taken more of a leadership role,” Godwin said. “A guy like (outfielder) Dusty Baker has taken more of a leadership role because now we don’t have nine seniors (like last season). They’ve really put it on themselves to be better leaders and that’s the one thing that’s really been our focus this fall.”

Trey Benton and Jake Agnos are almost certain to be weekend starters after they experienced plenty of action last year as freshmen pitchers. A rookie for this season likely in position for a big role on the mound is hard-throwing Gavin Williams from Fayetteville.

First base is also a position where the Pirates have built strong depth through recent recruiting efforts. Freshman Alec Burleson has been a quality addition this fall to join Spencer Brickhouse, a first baseman/designated hitter who was a big-time recruit out of Bunn High School and was a freshman All-American a season ago thanks to 10 home runs.

Players in different classes mixing well on and off the field, and in many ways improving their games through internal competition, seems to be a theme already as the Pirates look to improve upon last year’s 32-win total.

There is also a good mix of talent at the three outfield positions, including Baker, former freshman All-American and now-junior Dwanya-Williams Sutton and newcomer Chandler Jenkins from the junior college ranks. Jenkins was the NJCAA Division II national player of the year.

“A lot of times when you get tunnel vision when stuff is hard, whether it’s an intense moment in a game, you are worried about yourself and not worried about what your teammates are doing,” Godwin said. “That can be not just on the field, but in the weight room or in social situations. Last year we got caught up and had some great individual performances, but we didn’t have great team performance at the end of the year like we were looking for.”

Another sophomore and a D.H. Conley High School product who is still nursing a back injury from late last season is Bryant Packard. He is also projected to eventually factor into the outfield situation.

“We’re just trying to get him healthy for the spring,” Godwin said. “He’s going to be a corner outfielder and DH and maybe play first base.”

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

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