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ECU baseball gearing toward preseason

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East Carolina's Bryant Packard takes a swing during a game against Tulane in Greenville on April 28, 2017.

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By RONNIE WOODWARD
The Daily Reflector

Friday, January 12, 2018

East Carolina baseball is on track to get a few key players back to full health soon, while the offseason also recently saw the exit of a potentially promising freshman.

Catcher Spencer Smith, who was drafted last year in the 37th round by the Texas Rangers out of Northern Durham High School but was injured during the fall at ECU, has left the team.

The recent good news for the Pirates is that third basemen Connor Litton and Collin Watt are close to returning to full status, and outfielder Bryant Packard is not far behind them. Pirate coach Cliff Godwin said Thursday morning that those players, who were also limited during the fall because of injuries, are progressing toward all being at full strength later this month for preseason practice.

Litton or Watt is likely to start at third base when the season begins Feb. 16.

ECU continued offseason workouts this week, culminating with some pitchers scheduled to throw bullpen sessions at Clark-LeClair Stadium on Friday. The first official team practice is set for Jan. 26, so until then coaches will mainly work with players individually and in groups.

“They’ve been throwing, but the main thing is to get them together as a group and get them moving around,” Godwin said. “It’s kind of like a shorter version of (Major League Baseball) spring training in my opinion. You are lifting weights and conditioning and hitting and throwing and taking ground balls for really the nuts and bolts of everything that it takes to play baseball, but just not team defense or team-oriented stuff.”

With Smith out of the mix, ECU will do like it mainly did in the fall and lean on sophomore Jake Washer and freshman Seth Caddell behind the plate. The pair will be working with a pitching staff that is expected to be a team strength and led by Trey Benton and Jake Agnos, who both received valuable experience a year ago as rookies.

Activity between pitchers and catchers is picking up at Clark-LeClair, but the schedule for January also calls for team meetings and other focuses away from the baseball field. With football still very much in the national sports discussion, Godwin has even implemented some of that into talks with his team.

“We talk about Alabama football and the (New England) Patriots a lot, because I just really appreciate the way coach (Nick) Saban and (Bill) Belichick go about their business,” Godwin said. “I’m not saying you have to love those guys, but at the end of the day, the reason they are so consistent is because of the processes they have in place.”

The Pirates are looking to bounce back after they had great expectations for last season but ultimately didn’t make the NCAA tournament, which was a first during Godwin’s three seasons. ECU was recently picked fourth in the American Athletic Conference preseason poll.

Godwin said most polls are based around the previous season’s results, so he isn’t too worried about rankings at the moment.

“I’m sure a lot of people think we won’t be very good this year, but this is the most excited I’ve been about a group and the way they go about their business each day,” he said.

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

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