Coach Cliff Godwin pointing others to Christ as East Carolina seeks College World Series trip

No college baseball program has made more NCAA Tournament appearances without reaching the College World Series than East Carolina. The Pirates are projected to reach the regionals for a 32nd time this season, but a trip to Omaha has proved elusive.

East Carolina alum Cliff Godwin is the man tasked with changing that. Godwin returned to his alma mater in June 2014 after serving as an assistant coach at Ole Miss, Central Florida, LSU and Notre Dame.

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Under Godwin’s leadership, the Pirates have captured two conference tournament titles and three regular-season titles, and reached the NCAA Tournament five times. A third conference tournament championship is within reach as well, as they face Cincinnati in the second round at 1 p.m. ET Thursday on ESPN+.

A Bryson Worrell grand slam in the bottom of the sixth inning proved to be decisive in a 7-3 win over South Florida in the first round Tuesday. The victory was East Carolina’s 15th in a row.

ECU won a third consecutive American Athletic Conference regular-season championship (excluding the canceled 2020 season) with a 20-4 conference record this season. The team is 39-18 on the year and moved back into the top 25 this week, coming in at No. 23.

What’s turned into another incredibly successful season started on a sad note. Niko Agnos — the father of current Pirates third baseman Zach Agnos and former Pirates standout Jake Agnos — passed away in the fall from complications due to COVID-19. Godwin contracted the virus himself soon after.

Leading a team through such a challenging time reminded Godwin his job entails much more than recording wins and losses.

“The winning and losing, I know fans are going to judge me one day, but this fall probably helped me realize like, at the end of the day — no offense — I don’t care how many games I win,” he said at the team’s preseason media day in January. “I’ve got a bigger purpose on this planet than to just win baseball games.”

His bigger purpose is defined by his faith, which is on full display through the devotionals Godwin posts almost every day on his Twitter account:

The Pirates hosted and won a regional in both 2019 and 2021 before falling to Louisville and Vanderbilt, respectively, in the super regionals. Godwin is well aware of the program’s track record in the postseason and how difficult it is to get all the way to the College World Series (the NCAA Tournament’s final eight teams).

“As I’ve told our guys before, you’ve got to go to Ohama through the front door. … You can’t go in the back door. Everybody’s got to know that you’re coming,” he said at media day.

Godwin’s confidence has not been shaken by what’s happened in the past though. When asked before the season what he and his coaching staff can take from their trip to the super regionals in 2021, Godwin expressed his belief in the program’s ability to take the next step and issued a reminder that God is the One in control.

“Only the good Lord up top knows when it’s going to happen, but I know we’re doing things the right way,” he said at media day. “And if we continue to do that, then we’re definitely not just going to go to the World Series, we’re gonna win a national championship as well.”

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