PROVIDENCE, Rhode Island - Coaches in the American Athletic Conference chose East Carolina University as the team to beat in the 2017 season.
According to a press release from ECUPirates.com, ECU picked up six of the eight first-place votes to earn the preseason No. 1 spot. Here's the rest of the press release:
Senior lefty Evan Kruczynski has been named preseason co-pitcher-of-the-year along with Connecticut’s Tim Cate, while junior Joe Ingle (unanimous), senior Travis Watkins and sophomore Dwanya Williams-Sutton (unanimous) were also chosen to the all-conference team.
Kruczynski, who earned Third-Team All-America honors from D1Baseball.com, posted an 8-1 record with a 2.01 ERA and struck out 95 batters on his way to winning ECU's pitching triple crown. In 17 starts he allowed 32 runs (26 earned) on 107 hits while allowing 27 walks earning First-Team All-American Conference accolades. In two NCAA postseason starts, he sported a 2-0 record with a 2.13 ERA allowing three runs (all earned) on six hits with 12 strikeouts in 12.2 innings. One of five Charlottesville All-Regional selections, he became the first Pirate pitcher to register a win in Super Regional action helping ECU to an 8-6 victory over Texas Tech. The left-hander stood among the conference leaders in innings pitched (second), wins (third) and strikeouts (t5th). This is the second preseason honor for Kruczynski after being named a Third-Team All-America selection by Collegiate Baseball.
Watkins, a four-time Johnny Bench Award Watch list candidate, had a career year batting .326 (76-for-233) with seven home runs, 44 RBI, 43 runs scored and 29 walks in 61 starts. He took home 2016 Charlottesville Regional MOP honors after batting .462 (6-for-13) with a five RBI and a pair of home runs, one of which was a walk-off against regional host Virginia – a three-run shot. The red-shirt senior followed his regional play batting .400 (4-for-10) with more home runs and seven RBI against Texas Tech in Super Regional action. Watkins, who tallied 18 multi-hit games, led the club with 12 multi-RBI contests and enters the 2017 season having reached base safely in 12-straight games.
Sutton, who was named to three Freshman All-America teams in 2016, led The American in batting average (.360) and on-base percentage (.455), while ranking second in slugging percentage (.551). The Wilson, N.C. native became the first Pirate since Brian Cavanaugh to lead a conference in batting average (.382) back in 2005 when ECU was a member of Conference USA. He started 55 of 56 games, belted five home runs, laced four triples and 11 doubles (20 extra base hits), while scoring 31 runs, driving in 27 and swiping 7 of 12 bases. Williams-Sutton, who also garnered 2016 First-Team All-American Athletic Conference accolades, earned league player-of-the-week honors twice (Feb. 29 and May 23) and tallied six game-winning RBI with four coming in league play.
Ingle appeared in a 32 games out of the bullpen leading The American with 12 saves, which stood 22rd nationally. The right-hander posted a 6-3 record allowing 25 runs (21 earned) on 36 hits with 75 strikeouts in 52.2 innings for a 3.59 ERA. He tallied a career-high nine strikeouts against Maryland in the LeClair Classic and worked a career-best five innings in game two of the Lubbock Super Regional, where he fanned six and allowed just one hit. Ingle picked wins against Connecticut, Elon, Maryland, Monmouth and Virginia (twice) while recording seven saves in league play.
On Tuesday, the Pirates garnered their first preseason national ranking of the 2017 season after being tabbed No. 13 by Collegiate Baseball. It was ECU’s highest preseason ranking since coming in at No. 11 in 2010 by Rivals.com.
A year ago, the Pirates (38-23-1, 15-8-1) finished ranked in the top 16 in five major polls (Baseball America/No. 15, Collegiate Baseball/No. 15, National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association/No. 15, D1Baseball/No. 16 and USA Today/No. 16) marking the first time since 2009 ECU had finished ranked in four or more polls.
ECU returns 19 letterwinners, including four Charlottesville All-Regional selections (Kruczynski, Eric Tyler, Watkins/Most Outstanding Player and Charlie Yorgen), freshman All-America Williams-Sutton and 2014 all-conference performer Bryce Harman.
Also stepping on the diamond are 14 newcomers, which consists of three infielders (Nick Barber, Spencer Brickhouse and Bryant Packard), one catcher (Zack Moore), four outfielders (Dusty Baker, Tyler Edwards, Andrew Henrickson and TJ Riles) and six pitchers (Jake Agnos, Trey Benton, Hunter Britt, Hunter Hood, Ryan Ross, Tyler Smith). East Carolina’s 2016-17 recruiting class received a pair of Top 25 national recruiting rankings coming in at No. 18 by D1Baseball and No. 23 by Baseball America.
During his two years at the helm of the program, head baseball coach Cliff Godwin has guided ECU to a pair of NCAA Regional berths, a Super Regional appearance, an American Athletic Conference Tournament title and a 78-44-1 (.638) overall record. Three players have earned All-America honors, five were named to the Charlottesville All-Regional Team, six earned all-conference honors (five first-teamers), seven were selected as American Player-of-the-Week, while a pair were drafted by Major League Baseball teams.
The Pirates will begin spring practice on Friday, Jan. 27 and are set to open the 2017 season on the road at Ole Miss on Friday, Feb. 17 with a 5 p.m. (ET) scheduled first pitch.
2017 American Athletic Conference Preseason Poll and Awards
(as selected by The American head coaches)
1. East Carolina (6) – 48 points
2. Houston (1) – 42
3. Tulane (1) – 35
4. Connecticut – 30
5. Cincinnati – 22
6. USF – 21
t7. UCF – 13
t7. Memphis – 13
(first-place votes in parentheses)
Joe Davis, DH, Houston
Evan Kruczynski, LHP, East Carolina
Tim Cate, LHP, Connecticut
P – Tim Cate, Connecticut
P – Evan Kruczynski, East Carolina
P – Seth Romero, Houston *
P – Ross Massey, Tulane
RP – Joe Ingle, East Carolina *
C – Travis Watkins, East Carolina
1B – Hunter Williams, Tulane
2B – Jake Willsey, Tulane
SS – Kevin Merrell, USF
3B – Willy Yahn, Connecticut
OF – Dwanya Williams-Sutton, East Carolina *
OF – Corey Julks, Houston *
OF – Chris Carrier, Memphis
DH – Joe Davis, Houston *
* unanimous selection