In the rich and storied tradition of East Carolina baseball, there was never a season that compares to the magical experience of 2001.
Under the direction of fourth-year head coach Keith LeClair, the ECU program was resurrected into national contender caliber status and became one of the nation's top programs.
LeClair guided the Pirates to arguably the greatest season in East Carolina history as the Pirates earned their first-ever NCAA Tournament national seed, a top 10 ranking, an NCAA Regional title, and a school record-tying 47 victories, before finishing just two games shy of making the school's first appearance in the College World Series.
ECU's success came behind one of the most balanced teams in the country as the Pirates were one of just three teams to rank among the top 25 in batting and pitching in the final NCAA statistics. The team finished 22nd nationally with .324 batting average and 15th with a 3.62 team earned run average.
Nine players earned first or second team All-Colonial Athletic Association honors as the Pirates rolled to a CAA-record 19 league victories against just two losses. ECU had six players named first team all-conference - Sam Narron (LHP), Joseph Hastings (1B), Bryant Ward (2B), Chad Tracy (3B), John Williamson (OF) and Cliff Godwin (DH), while Clayton McCullough (C), Lee Delfino (SS), and Will Brinson (RHP) were named second-team. Hastings and Brinson were also selected third-team All-America.
After beginning the season ranked No. 23, ECU climbed a high as eighth in the Baseball America Top-25 rankings. The Pirates posted a 17-3 mark to bolt into the top 10 for the first time in school history and finished the season ranked 11th by both Baseball America and Collegiate Baseball. ECU also garnered its highest final RPI ranking, completing the season at No. 4.
Various attendance records were established during the season as Pirate baseball became the talk of the community. Over 35,000 fans passed through the turnstiles at Harrington Field to establish a new season attendance mark, while also setting a new standard in per game attendance with over 1,100 fans. A new single-game attendance record was also set when the Pirates hosted N.C. State in the final home game of the season. More than 3,700 fans packed the stadium to watch ECU defeat the Wolfpack, 9-3.
Quickly Out of the Gates
The season opener against Western Carolina proved to be an omen of the offensive output that the Pirates would display throughout the year as they blasted seven home runs on opening day. Clayton McCullough quietly began the home run barrage with a solo home run in the third inning before ECU hit four home runs in the fourth and another two in the eighth. Ward led the onslaught with a pair of round-trippers. The power surge continued through each of the fist 14 games of the year as ECU hit as least one home run in each game.
The Pirates went on to open the season with 13 consecutive victories at Harrington before falling to Delaware, an eventual NCAA Regional participant, in 10 innings. The winning streak was nearly halted at 12 until Delfino hit a walk-off two-run home run in the bottom of the ninth in the series opener against the Blue Hens. The streak was the fourth longest in school history and second-best to start a season.
As the calendar turned to March, the Pirates' fortunes turned as well as ECU lost starting left fielder Ryan Jones to a broken thumb in the series opener against Ball State. Following a three-game sweep of the Redbirds, the Pirates headed to the Sunshine State for a five-game trip through Florida, including a three-game series at seventh-ranked Miami. ECU began its spring break trip with a 9-6 victory over Illinois State, but fell to Florida Atlantic the following day, 9-8.
The series opener against Miami will be remembered as a great comeback that ran out of outs. Trailing 12-2 in the top of the eighth inning, ECU scored five run in the frame to pull within five. The Hurricanes answered with a two-run home run in the bottom half of the inning to push their lead back to seven, before the ninth-inning dramatics began. With two outs and a runner on second base, Hastings hit a two-run home run to start a ninth-inning, six-run, two-out rally. The Pirates sent 11 men to the plate in the inning and had the tying run on second base and the go-ahead run at the plate when its rally came to an end.
Encouraged by its late-inning rally, ECU bounced back to blow past the Hurricanes, 7-2, in the second game of their series. The Pirates pounded out 14 hits, including six extra-base hits and held Miami scoreless over the final eight innings of play. Williamson and Tracy each hit towering home runs during the contest. Game three saw the Pirates suffer the same fate as game one. ECU put together a late rally, but this time its self-imposed curfew rule halted the game after eight complete innings.
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Rolling Into Spring
With the season in full swing as the month of April dawned, the Pirate baseball team was just starting to hit its stride. The month began with a April Fool's Day victory over William & Mary, followed by consecutive wins over Elon, Coastal Carolina and VCU. Five wins in the next eight games, including an 18-6 win over Richmond, set the tone for a season-ending run at perfection.
After disappointing loss at North Carolina, the Pirates returned to conference play at Old Dominion. ECU put on a hitting clinic in the series, outscoring the Monarchs 37-8 during their three-game series. Duke beckoned next on the schedule and, playing at home for the first time in a week, ECU showed no mercy on the Blue Devils, whipping Duke 16-3 in front of a regional television audience.
After nine consecutive victories, ECU headed to Wilmington to face in-state rival UNC Wilmington in its final CAA series. Looking to leave in style, the Pirates blanked the Seahawks in each of the first two games, 11-0 and 3-0. The third game of the series was a classic pitcher's duel. The Seahawks pulled off the seemingly impossible as they shutout an ECU team that had scored less than three runs in a game just once the entire season.
On to the Regionals
Unable to earn an automatic bid to the NCAA Regionals via the CAA Tournament, ECU patiently waited for the pairings to be announced. Upon the announcement of the 64-team field, ECU was awarded the No. 7 overall seed and named the host institution for the NCAA Regional at Wilson, N.C. The Pirates cruised past UMBC in the opening round, 7-0, behind a four-hit pitching performance from Jason Mandryk. Tracy and Hastings each homered in the victory.
Following a six-hour rain delay, the top-seeded Pirates rallied from a 6-3 seventh inning deficit to defeat South Florida, 12-8, and advance to the championship game against Winthrop. ECU scored four times in the seventh to take a one-run lead before adding a run in the eighth and four in the ninth to ensure the victory.
The championship game provided little drama as Narron tossed a complete-game five hitter. Trailing 1-0 in the top half of the fifth, the regional's Most Outstanding Player Chad Tracy capped off a three-run frame hitting a two-run home run to give the Pirates a lead they would never relinquish and a date in the Super Regional against Tennessee.
After thunderstorms postponed game one of the Super Regional until Saturday, Tennessee quickly took advantage of its extra day of rest and jumped out to a 9-2 lead. ECU scored a combined seven runs in the seventh and eighth innings to take a 10-9 lead heading in to the ninth. The Volunteers rallied for four runs in the ninth and took game one 13-10. Game two once again provided a similar result as each team came from behind to take the lead, however it was a UT grand slam in the eighth that ended ECU's glorious season and Omaha dreams.
A Program First
ECU earned its first-ever NCAA Tournament national seed (No. 7), a Top-10 ranking, an NCAA Regional title, and a school-tying 47 victories, before finishing just two games shy of making the school's first appearance in the College World Series.
Final Stat Rankings
The Pirates were one of just three school's to rank among the Top-25 in batting (22nd/.324) and pitching (15th/3.62) in the final NCAA statistics.
Post-Season Honors Were Plenty
Nine players earned All-Colonial Athletic Association honors with six garnering first-team honors (Cliff Godwin/DH, Joseph Hastings/1B, Sam Narron/LHP, Chad Tracy/3B, Bryant Ward/2B and John Williamson/OF), and three taking home second-team accolades (Lee Delfino/SS, Will Brinson/RHP and Clayton McCullough/C) ... Hastings and Brinson were also selected third-team All-America.
After beginning the season ranked No. 23, ECU climbed as high as eighth in the Baseball America Top-25 rankings ... The Pirates posted a 17-3 mark to bolt into the Top-10 for the first time in school history and finished the season ranked 11th by both Baseball America and Collegiate Baseball ... ECU also garnered its highest final RPI ranking, completing the season at No. 4.
Seniors Depart as Winningest Class
The senior class of 2001 graduated as the winningest class of seniors in the history of Pirate baseball ... Hastings, Godwin, Brad Simons and John Williamson won 166 games during their four years ... Kevin Grieve, a transfer from Western Carolina, played three years at ECU ... The group of seniors was just the third class to participate in three consecutive NCAA Tournaments and helped the Pirates to three-straight No. 1 seeds in post-season play.
Narron Ties School Record for Victories
Narron became just the fourth pitcher in school history to win 12 games in a season, tying the single-season mark for victories ... He opened the season by winning his first four decisions before losing at Miami (Fla.) and finished the year by winning his final eight decisions ... Narron tossed a pair of complete games, including the regional championship game against Winthrop ... He lead the team in strikeouts and innings pitched, and was second in ERA.
Record Year for Home Runs
The 2001 squad finished the season with a school-record 85 home runs, breaking the old mark of 79 set by the 1998 and 1999 clubs ... Five players finished the season with 10 or more home runs for the first time in school history ... Tracy broke the record in the championship game of the NCAA Regional at Wilson, N.C. ... The Pirates homered in 46 of 60 games and hit two or more home runs in a game 25 times.
Pirates In the Draft
A quartet of Pirates was selected in the Major League Baseball Amateur Draft: Lee Delfino (Toronto Blue Jays/6th RD), Chad Tracy (Arizona Diamondbacks/7th RD), John Williamson (Seattle Mariners/18th RD) and Joseph Hastings (San Diego Padres/24th RD).
Williamson Finishes Among the Greatest
Williamson will forever be regarded as one of the best players ever to don the Purple and Gold ... He finished his career as the Pirates all-time leader in games played, total bases, at-bats, runs, doubles and walks ... His 70 career doubles was also a CAA record and 22 doubles in 2001 was a single-season record ... The two-time All-CAA selection and freshman All-American is the only player in ECU history to finish his career with 200 runs, 100 walks, 200 RBI, 50 doubles and 40 home runs.