Category Archives: Athletics

ECU Club Baseball’s Tanner Duncan signs contract with MLB’s Houston Astros

Tanner Duncan has been on a whirlwind ride during the month of June. The ECU Pirate has experienced the highest of highs and lowest of lows.

On June 1, Tanner led the ECU Club Baseball team to a World Series National Championship, winning 1-0 in ten innings over Central Florida. He was almost perfect in the World Series, surrendering no runs and only five hits in 18 innings pitched. He won both games and was named the NCBA World Series Most Valuable Player.

“I can’t describe the feeling of winning that championship,” said Duncan. “These coaches, my teammates and the ECU Club baseball program just came together and worked so hard to make this dream come true.”

ECU Club Baseball won the Club Baseball World Series. (Contributed photos)

ECU Club Baseball won the Club Baseball World Series. (Contributed photos)

Tanner Duncan rode that wave for about 10 days while he waited for the Major League Baseball draft on June 12-14. Like hundreds of baseball players around the country, he hoped his phone would ring and a professional baseball organization wanted him.

But the phone didn’t ring any of the three days.

“I was sitting on my couch thinking the dream was over. I had completed all my course work for my kinesiology degree and was trying to figure what in the world I was going to do with my life. I just kept thinking, I am a baseball player. I want to play baseball.”

Then, the game changed. His phone rang.

 

Lifelong Dream

At three years of age, Tanner Duncan knew what he was going to be when he grew up.

“I was going to be a professional baseball player,” Duncan said. “I always thought I was good enough even when others didn’t agree.”

Duncan started playing t-ball in his hometown of Tabor City, North Carolina. His parents, Greg and Wendy Duncan, spent the next 15 years taking Tanner from ball field to ball field, from Little League and Summer Travel Leagues to the high school diamonds.

Tanner found success at pretty much every level as a hitter and fielder. He received a few offers to play college baseball from some Division III schools, but chose to attend East Carolina University and try his best to walk on and make the team.

Duncan was named Player of the game.

Duncan was named Player of the game.

“I tried out as a shortstop during my first year at ECU, but I just didn’t make the cut,” Duncan said. “I just knew that I was good enough if I could just get a chance to prove it.”

Tanner Duncan had heard about ECU’s club baseball team and thought it would be a great way to keep his dream alive. He converted from shortstop to pitcher during that first season. Duncan’s goal was to work as hard as he could and try out again the next season.

“The guys on our club team were just special. They work their tails off in every practice and every game and wanted to win a championship.”

A championship didn’t come and neither did a spot on the team after trying out again the following season. But Tanner wasn’t going to stop.

“My parents always believed in me,” said Duncan. “They told me anything was possible if you were willing to work at it. So, I kept working.”

During his junior year, Tanner Duncan and the ECU Club baseball team made it to the World Series but lost in the championship game to Nevada. In 2017, the team was back in the World Series and entered as the number one ranked team in the country.

Tanner had an amazing season on the mound. He won nine games, only losing one. He pitched 75 innings, striking out 132 batters and garnered a stunning 0.84 earned run average. That means every time he pitched the opposing team averaged less than one run per game.

“The ECU Club Baseball program was a blessing for me,” Duncan said. “I am so appreciative to the folks in Campus Recreation and Wellness, the club sports organizers and everyone that helped this team win a championship.”

And so after the MLB draft, Tanner Duncan thought the end of his baseball career may be here. Then, while sitting on his couch contemplating his future, the phone rang and he was offered a chance to pitch in front of professional scouts.

 

Three Days of Craziness

Tanner hopped in his car and drove to Richmond, Virginia to showcase his talents for pro scouts. It was his one true chance to demonstrate his skills, his passion and his desire to become a professional baseball player.

Tanner Duncan signs with the Astros. (contributed photos)

Tanner Duncan signs with the Astros. (contributed photos)

“It was a lot of pressure, but I just believed that I could do it. When I was done, I just didn’t know if it would be enough.”

It was enough. Less than an hour later, as he was heading back home to North Carolina, his phone rang. He was being offered a spot with the Houston Astros organization.

“There wasn’t much time to celebrate. I was on a plane the next morning at 6 a.m., headed to West Palm Beach, Florida to join the Gulf Coast League Astros.”

On June 23, he officially signed a contract with the Astros organization and was assigned to the Rookie League. He pitched two innings of shutout relief on June 27 and is expected to see his first action as a starting pitcher on July 3.

And while you can’t wipe the smile off his face right now, he hasn’t forgotten there is still more to accomplish.

“Becoming a pro baseball player is great, but it’s only step one. Now I have to work hard enough to move up. Level by level, I will keep working. And even if I make it to the big leagues (Major League Baseball), I will not quit working.”

Tanner said he learned that from playing Club Baseball at ECU.

“Resilience, persistence and relentless. That’s what I learned at East Carolina and those same words are going to keep the fire in me burning.”

 

 

-by Chris Stansbury, Student Affairs 

ECU’s Club Baseball Team hopes fourth time is the charm

For the fourth year in a row, the ECU Club Baseball Team will play for the chance to bring home a national title at the National Club Baseball Association World Series. There is one major difference this year, the Pirates enter the World Series as the top ranked program in the nation.

“We’ve been preparing all year for this, and I think every man is ready for it, and we’re ready to achieve our ultimate goal of winning this year,” said senior second baseman Miles Haymond.

While they have made the eight-team series the past three years, they have fallen short of the crown, losing in the championship game last year. So for players like Haymond, this is their last shot to get that ring.

“You know, we’ve been to that final game last year, and we were right there. But this year I think we’re a little more ready to take what’s ours,” said Haymond.

The ECU Club Baseball Team has become a juggernaut over the last several years. The Pirates won their first, and only, national championship in 2011. First year head coach Ben Fox, a 2012 graduate, played for the ECU club team in 2009 and started coaching as an assistant in 2010. He feels his team is part of the national picture for the long haul.

The ECU Club Baseball Team piles on top of one another after coming from behind in the bottom of the ninth to defeat Ohio State. This victory put them into the regional championship game. (Photos by Richard L Miller Photography)

The ECU Club Baseball Team piles on top of one another after coming from behind in the bottom of the ninth to defeat Ohio State. This victory put them into the regional championship game. (Photo by Richard L Miller Photography)

“We had just made our first regional when I had first started coaching,” Fox said. “We weren’t considered a perennial world series team, but now we have cemented ourselves as an every year world series baseball team, and we take a lot of pride in that.”

Graduate student Logan Sutton is playing in his final season for the purple and gold. He just missed out on playing for that national championship team in 2011.

“My first thought of it is I’m sure everyone’s first thought, you know: ‘It’s just club baseball.’ But as I got involved and started coming to practices and talking to everyone, it really hit home that it’s really competitive,” Sutton said.

“This group of guys could compete at any level… . One game, I’ll take us against anybody,” Fox said.

There are some similarities between NCAA athletics and club sports. The competition level is very high. Players can tryout (similar to walk-on) to make the team. Fox said during the past couple of years 70 to 100 players have tried out. This year, 30 players are on the roster along with four redshirts.

Stephen Allard slides into home against William and Mary.

Stephen Allard slides into home against William and Mary. (Photo by Richard L Miller Photography)

Those who make the team may play up to five years, but they have only six years to do so after graduating from high school. Unlike traditional Division 1 athletes, they can redshirt one year and then play on the field for the other five; traditional players can be on the field or court for only four years.

The club players are not on athletic scholarships and have to pay or raise $300 a semester to play.

“Which is why you never really have to question any of these guys’ effort because they know they’re paying to be out here, and that’s the best part about it. You know these guys want to be here, or they wouldn’t pay the money to be here,” Fox said.

Club baseball also gives athletes a chance to continue playing baseball beyond high school.

“I’ll be forever grateful for club baseball… . It’s been the best decision in my life because we’re still able to play competitive baseball,” said senior shortstop Walker Gaddis of Greenville.

Senior catcher Jake Merzigan had previously walked on the ECU baseball team. While he made the team, he was behind star catcher Travis Watkins on the depth chart. He played a little as the bullpen catcher but saw club baseball as a way to get the most out of his baseball career.

Catcher Jake Merzigian dive slides into third base against Elon.

Catcher Jake Merzigian dive slides into third base against Elon. (Photo by Richard L Miller Photography)

“I just saw a better opportunity playing club ball. You’re actually playing in the games rather than catching in the bullpen,” Merzigan said.

Earlier this month, Haymond and Gaddis received their diplomas from ECU and have accepted jobs that begin next month. So for them, these last few games will most likely be their last.

“It’s a tough realization, but if I have to go out one way, it would be on this team in that national championship game on June first,” Haymond said.

The ECU Club Baseball Team has its first game Friday, May 26, at 7 p.m. at the North Main Athletic Complex in Holly Springs, NC against Michigan State. Since they are the only North Carolina team in the NCBA Division 1 World Series, they are hoping to fill the stands with members of the Pirate Nation.

“I’ve been a Pirate my whole life and there’s nothing better to have ECU across our chests,” Gaddis said.

 

 

 

-by Rich Klindworth

Athletics director returns from leadership conference

Athletics Director Jeff Compher aboard a Coast Guard vessel off the coast of Florida

Athletics Director Jeff Compher aboard a Coast Guard vessel off the coast of Florida

After spending a week observing America’s top military leaders, East Carolina University Athletics Director Jeff Compher said he is determined to put a greater emphasis on student athletes.

“I need to focus on people to make us better – not facilities or equipment,” Compher said after returning from the Senior Leader Engagement Program (SLEP) sponsored by U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter.

“They kept focusing on people, not assets,” Compher said about the briefings he received from senior officers at the Pentagon and at four large military bases.

“I learned that the military really believes in the principle of commander’s intent, which is that the person at the top sets the objective but every other decision is delegated down. The whole idea is to emphasize people over things.”

Delegating authority allows lower-ranking soldiers to feel they are responsible for and in control of their duties, Compher said.

Master Sgt. John Perusek salutes the U.S flag during morning reveille at Homestead ARB, Fla., prior to the start of the day's winter training activities.

Master Sgt. John Perusek salutes the U.S flag during morning reveille at Homestead ARB, Fla., prior to the start of the day’s winter training activities.

“I talked to one (enlisted soldier) on a ship, and he was quick to inform me that this was his deck and those were his ammunition racks. That’s what we need to do here in sports – make our athletes believe that they are in control of what happens in a game, not their coaches.”

Established in 1948, SLEP is the oldest outreach program in the U.S. Department of Defense and the only event sponsored by the secretary. About two dozen leaders from the worlds of business and higher education were invited to the event, which was held Aug. 23-30. Senior representatives of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard served as lecturers.

The intent of the program was to familiarize participants with the challenges faced by men and women in uniform, both on and off the battlefield.

Compher received briefings at the Pentagon, and then toured two military bases in Florida. He participated in a demonstration of parachute rigging at Ft. Bragg and observed a Naval Special Warfare demonstration at a Norfolk military base.

At Ft. Bragg, Compher met Army Master Sgt. John Perusek, a 25-year veteran of the Green Berets. “He told me something that stuck with me,” Compher said about Perusek. “He said in the military what we do is to look past our differences to achieve a common goal. That’s a great motto for us to follow in sports because we have student athletes from all backgrounds and our challenge is to lead them toward a common goal.”

Perusek also is a member of the elite Black Daggers U.S. Army parachute demonstration team who will parachute into ECU’s Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium at the Nov. 7 home football game during Military Appreciation Day.

Overall, Compher said he was struck by how much the military has in common with college sports.

“They deal with young people; we do too. They have those people for a limited amount of time; we do too. Like the military, we are dealing with people who have made a commitment to do something at the highest level, and we have to be able to train and lead our student athletes so they can accomplish their goals.”

— Steve Tuttle

In Memoriam – Jimmy Grimsley

Grimsley

Grimsley

Dr. Jimmy Grimsley, ECU alumnus and faculty emeritus, passed away Jan. 28. He was 70.

Grimsley joined the ECU faculty in 1967 to teach and serve as head coach of both tennis and soccer for men. Following a brief leave of absence to earn his doctoral degree from the University of Georgia in 1972, he returned to ECU, where he continually taught for more than 40 years in the Department of Kinesiology.

He was known for his outstanding memory, student advising and mentoring of former students. He was a mentor and friend to his colleagues. His sincerity and practical advice were valued by many.

As an associate professor, he served as director of graduate studies, director of clinical experiences, and coordinator of physical education programs. He contributed significantly to the University through his service on search, accreditation and other committees, including the President’s Advisory Committee, Faculty Senate, and the Graduate School.

He was a strong supporter of ECU and Pitt County Schools athletics. He served as the scoreboard operator at ECU football and basketball games for several decades.

Above all else, he cared about students and was a strong and effective student advocate. He leaves a legacy as a caring, knowledgeable, well-loved professor, who understood the field of physical education. He will be missed in the hallways of Minges Coliseum.

Gifts may be made payable to the ECU Foundation, Inc. for The Jimmie Grimsley Scholarship and mailed to:

Tammy C. Garris

Greenville Centre, Room 2211

East Carolina University

2200 South Charles Blvd.

Greenville, NC 27858

Mail Stop 301

Named to high school hall of fame

Tynita Butts (Photo courtesy of Alexandria News)

Tynita Butts (Photo courtesy of Alexandria News)

Tynita Butts, the record-setting high jumper on ECU’s track and field team who won the Penn Relays twice and was named an NCAA All-American six times, was inducted into her high school’s sports hall of fame. The ceremony was held Dec. 8 at T.C. Williams High School in her hometown of Alexandria, Virginia.

Butts graduated last May with a degree in sociology and a concentration in marriage and family relations. She is working at an athletic clothing retailer in Washington, D.C., while pursuing professional sports.

She tied for second in the high jump at the NCAA track and field championships in Eugene, Ore., last June. That’s the highest-ever finish by an ECU athlete at the NCAA nationals. She finished her ECU career as the school record holder in both the high jump (1.91-meters) and long jump (6.22-meters). She qualified for the NCAA Championships every year in which she competed at the collegiate level.

During her high school career she was a two-time Virginia state champion and two-time Penn Relays champion in the jumping events. She was honored as The Washington Post’s Track and Field Athlete of the Year as well as Gatorade Athlete of the Year.

Ranked first in the nation in the high jump and second in the long jump her last season as a Pirate, Butts recorded four first-place finishes in the high jump and won the event at the 2014 Conference USA Outdoor Championships.

National champion swimmers return to campus

Left to right Jeff Faucette, Jack McCann and Jake Smith as they appeared in a Sept. 2014 visit to campus, above, and on the ECU swim team in the late 1950s.

Left to right Jeff Faucette, Jack McCann and Jake Smith as they appeared in a Sept. 2014 visit to campus, upper image, and on the ECU swim team in the late 1950s, below.

Three members of East Carolina’s 1959 NAIA national championship swim team returned to campus the weekend of Sept. 20 to attend a reunion of the Sigma Nu fraternity.

Jeff Faucette, Jack McCann and Jake Smith were among 10 swimmers on the 1957 and 1959 teams selected as All-Americans. McCann and Smith each won six events at national competitions. McCann swam the breaststroke and is credited with inventing what’s called the whip kick that now is widely used in competitive swimming.

East Carolina’s swim team also won the 1957 NAIA national championships.

Several members of both national championship swim teams were Sigma Nu brothers. Sigma Nu was among the first social fraternities on campus. The fraternity closed several years ago but is slated to officially return to campus in 2016.

Faucette now lives in Fort Mill, South Carolina. Smith lives in Hickory and McCann lives in Morehead City.

— Steve Tuttle

The national champion East Carolina swim team.

The national champion East Carolina swim team.

ECU player selected ninth in draft by Toronto Blue Jays

East Carolina junior Jeff Hoffman was selected by the Toronto Blue Jays with the ninth

Hoffman

Hoffman

overall pick in the 2014 Major League Baseball First Year Amateur Draft Thursday night, which was televised live on the MLB Network.

With his first round selection, Hoffman becomes the highest draft pick in school history besting ECU Hall-of-Famer Theodore “Blue” Edwards, who was the 21st-overall selection by the Utah Jazz in the 1989 National Basketball Association Draft.

Read more at ECUPirates.com.

ECU student wins title as best amateur golfer in the Carolinas

Katie Kirk (Photo courtesy Carolinas Golf Association)

Katie Kirk (Photo courtesy Carolinas Golf Association)

By Steve Tuttle

Rising East Carolina University senior golfer Katie Kirk won the 88th annual Carolinas Women’s Amateur Championship on May 22 in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina[t1] . The victory in the prestigious event pegs Kirk as the best women’s amateur golfer in the two Carolinas.

Kirk finished with a total of 220 in the three-day event at the Wachesaw Plantation Club sponsored by the Carolinas Golf Association (CGA). Lane Gakeler, also a member of the ECU women’s golf team, tied for 10th place with a score of 229.

Kirk, who is from Davidson, near Charlotte, birdied the final hole to win the tournament by one shot over two competitors.  “When I was standing on the 18th tee I knew I had to make a birdie to win,” Kirk said. “I just told myself to play the hole as I’ve done all week.”

Her third shot from the fairway with a wedge came to rest within inches of the hole for a tap-in birdie. “It was awesome! I’ve always wanted to win a CGA championship. I’ve had a great week. I can’t wait to come back next year.”

Kirk is a two-time National Golf Coaches Association Division I Scholar All-American, a two-time Conference USA Commissioner’s Academic Medal recipient. She has been named to the ECU Director of Athletics Honor Roll four times. She is majoring in economics.

The Carolinas Women’s Amateur is widely considered the premier stroke play event for women from North and South Carolina. Past winners include many of the best women golfers in the region. Among them are N.C. State University golf coach Page Marsh Lea, Wake Forest assistant golf coach Stephanie Neill Harner, UNC Chapel Hill golf coach Amber Marsh, Carolinas Golf Hall of Fame member Patty Moore and Brenda Corrie-Keuhn, a member of the National Golf Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

 

 

 

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