For the second season in a row, East Carolina’s club baseball team will make an appearance in the National Club Baseball Association World Series. This time around, the Pirates will travel to Paducah, Kentucky.
This is familiar territory for the Pirates. They got to travel to Tampa last season as the No. 1 seed, but were sent packing after being upset by No. 8 seed 16-8 in the first round. “They treat you like a god,” reflected pitcher Josh Branch. “I didn’t expect it. You would think, as an outsider, club baseball is just a bunch of guys that want to play on weekends and have fun, but there’s more work in it and they’re more appreciative of everyone.”
Branch remembered last year when the LED board at the hotel welcomed the team and how aware everyone was of what was going on. Rightfully so, it made it feel like quite the big event it is.
Club baseball is more laid back than its varsity counterpart. The team practices about twice a week and takes the field for games on the weekends, which is less than the players met in high school. Despite that, the competition is still apparent, especially within the team.
“Executing is a big part,” Branch said. “We’ve got at least two at every position. Since we only have two days a week for practice, when your time comes to hit, you’ve got to do it. You’ve got two chances a week to show the coach ‘Hey, I’m hot right now.’”
And if it doesn’t work out, there’s someone right there ready to take the playing time because everyone takes it seriously. That’s the reason the club team will be competing on a national level as the varsity team tries to earn its way to a regional at the American Athletic Conference.
“Don’t downplay club baseball,” Branch said. “Our coach has a phrase we’re never allowed to use: ‘It’s just club baseball.’ No body needs to think of it like that. It’s not ‘just club baseball.’ It’s legit.”
Some of that competition within the team is stiff. Among the ranks of ECU club baseball are former varsity players and JUCO transfers.
“The game speed in general is a lot quicker than you’d expect,” said first baseman and Lenoir Community College transfer Stephen Allard, comparing college baseball — whether club or JUCO — to the high school level.
The Pirates are led offensively by five players each batting north of .400. Kyle Pratt leads the way with 38 hits for 29 runs and another 33 runs batted in. Mark Brown is the team’s resident power hitter. He has nine extra-base hits in 59 at-bats — four of which are home runs.
Brandon Taylor leads the pitching staff. In 54.2 innings pitched, he has given up just six earned runs on 30 hits and fanned 94 batters.
ECU once again earned the No. 1 seed. The Pirates will kick things off on Friday at 7:30 p.m. with No. 8 Iowa State.