College Baseball Countdown: 63 Days to Go- Keith LeClair Classic


East Carolina American Conference Champs - Photo Don Miller

Early-season tournaments are undoubtedly one of the best features of the non-conference slate in college baseball. In February and March, the daily schedules are littered with cancellations due to inclement weather and uncompetitive matchups between power programs and minnows from small conferences.

Tournaments, however, make up for all of those negatives. Earlier in the countdown, we talked about the Houston College Classic, but today, it’s all about the Clark LeClair Classic, named for the former ECU coach, annually hosted by those same ECU Pirates.

This particular tournament doesn’t draw the absolute cream of the crop in the same way the tournament in Houston does, but it always features a quartet of really competitive programs from conferences big and small. The 2016 rendition is no exception to this rule.

Of course, it really helps if the host school is a consistent winner and that’s certainly the case here. It’s pretty common knowledge that ECU has always been a nice program that punches above its weight, particularly in the Carolinas, but it’s doubtful that most actually know how successful they’ve been.

Take the following into consideration. The program has an overall .655 winning percentage in its history, and no single coach in the history of ECU baseball has had a winning percentage lower than .623. That coach, Jack Boone, coached the team for three seasons back in the early-1950s. If we just focus on relatively modern history and only go back to 1980, no coach has had a winning percentage lower than Billy Godwin’s .630, and it says something about how high the expectations are that Billy Godwin was often perceived as not winning enough, despite a .630 winning percentage.

ECU head coach Cliff Godwin - Photo - Don Miller CBC

ECU head coach Cliff Godwin - Photo - Don Miller CBC

Last year, the Pirates were back in the postseason after a brief absence, and all indications are that, while they will have some pieces to replace, they should be just as competitive in 2016 under second-year head coach Cliff Godwin.

Joining them in the Keith LeClair Classic field this year are Southeastern Louisiana, Tennessee, and Maryland.

In Southeastern Louisiana, you have perhaps the best team in the Southland Conference right now. They’ve had 35 or more wins every year since 2009. Their “worst” year during that span might be the 2014 season, when they finished fifth in the SLC, but that was the season in which they got hot in the conference tournament and punched their ticket into a regional.

Matt Riser, one of the hottest names in college baseball coaching at just 31 years of age, building off of the foundation laid by Jay Artigues, certainly has them trending in the right direction.

Tennessee has famously been struggling to get over the hump in the SEC and get back into a regional for the first time since Luke Hochevar and J.P. Arencibia were on the roster, but they’ll certainly prove to be stiff competition for the rest of the field and they’re guaranteed to be bringing plenty of talent to Greenville.

As recently as three or four years ago, if you had given a college baseball fan these four programs and had them rank them, Maryland would have done no better than third, and on some ballots, might have come in last. But that’s how quickly things can change, because now they’re far and away the most accomplished of the four in recent years.

They’ve been in a super regional in each of the last two seasons after having not been in the postseason since 1971 prior to that. Also, it’s worth noting that in neither case can you say that they simply backed their way into easy draws to get to super regionals. In 2014, they swept their way through the Columbia, South Carolina, regional, beating the host Gamecocks twice on their home field. Then, last year, they went out to the west coast as a three seed and won a regional that included number one national seed UCLA and Mississippi.

They’ve put significant talent into pro ball over the last several years, but they’ve proven to be far from a flash in the pan, as they welcome in a top-25 recruiting class ahead of the 2016 season. That’s rarified air for a team that’s not only not a traditional college baseball power, but also one not located in a warm climate.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, atmosphere can really do tournaments like these favors, and Clark-LeClair Stadium in Greenville really does that. It was an outstanding college baseball facility before it was in vogue for college baseball programs to invest heavily in facilities, and the facility more than holds up today. On top of it, the ECU baseball fans are among the best in the country, and they will certainly turn out for an event such as this.

If you’re just joining our college baseball countdown, you can visit our index page to get caught up on what has already been covered.

About the Author

Joseph Healy
Growing up in Houston, Joe Healy was introduced to college baseball at a young age, and it was love at first sight. Like most good love stories, that love has only grown throughout the years. When he's not at the ballpark, he enjoys tacos, college football during the fall, and the spectacle that is American politics. He holds a B.A. in political science from Sam Houston State University and a Master's in Public Administration from Southern Illinois University- Edwardsville.