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WOODWARD: Hosting has built-in advantages

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East Carolina sophomore outfielder Bryant Packard gives a fist-bump to a Pirate fan during Monday's NCAA selection show watch party at Mellow Mushroom.

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By RONNIE WOODWARD
The Daily Reflector

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

The importance of East Carolina hosting an NCAA baseball regional can be traced back to a telling moment during coach Cliff Godwin’s first season leading the Pirates.

He and a few of his players sat down for their final postgame news conference of the 2015 season and they looked exhausted.

It was in Coral Gables, Fla., at the regional hosted by Miami and ECU was the No. 2 seed, but it lost both of its games for a quick exit. ECU played like a team that was on fumes and at the end of a wild ride from finishing the regular season in Cincinnati and then traveling to Clearwater, Fla., to win the American Athletic Conference tournament and returning to Greenville briefly for the NCAA tournament announcement and then back to Florida to play at Miami’s stadium.

The Pirate skipper and former player was in a reflective and big-picture mood when recapping what his team had just endured.

“Obviously it was a great experience, but our goal is to be hosting regionals and super regionals in the future,” Godwin said. “Then our guys can be at home, and I think that’s important for us.”

Those words are true now more than ever, as this year’s Pirates have earned the right to start the NCAA tournament in Greenville.

East Carolina, with its 43 wins and No. 12 RPI ranking, was named one of the 16 regional hosts on Sunday night. Monday it was revealed that joining the Pirates in Greenville this weekend will be No. 2 seed South Carolina, No. 3 Ohio State and No. 4 UNC Wilmington.

A lot of initial reaction turned to UNCW being the best 4-seed, in terms of RPI with its No. 65 ranking, in the NCAA tourney field. East Carolina also has an interesting resume because of its outstanding 19-4 road record compared to being 20-10 at home.

It could be argued that ECU would have been better off playing on the road for the NCAA tournament, but that argument would ignore that statistics show home teams have a better chance of advancing than teams playing on the road.

This regional features great balance with UNCW as the No. 4 seed and a Southeastern Conference squad possibly peaking at the right time in No. 2 South Carolina, but hosting provides a multi-faceted advantage and the hosting statistics are in the Pirates’ favor.

ECU can use part of this week to regroup and enjoy the comfort of being at home after it closed the regular season at Connecticut and then spent last week in Florida for the AAC tournament.

More attention and more fans at Clark-LeClair Stadium can lead to more pressure on the Pirates and that was evident at times this season during important games, but they need to find a way to reverse that and put pressure instead on the visitors.

East Carolina has hosted a regional at Clark-LeClair Stadium only one other time. It was in 2009 and ECU won with South Carolina as the No. 2 seed.

There is no doubting the value of home-field advantage during the college baseball postseason. The 2015 comments by Godwin, who has been to the College World Series with LSU and Mississippi as an assistant coach, are trustworthy proof.

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

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