Cranfill, ECU win national championship

Published 8:37 am Thursday, June 15, 2017

Colby Cranfill and East Carolina’s club baseball team scaled the National Club Baseball Association mountaintop, beating Central Florida 1-0 in 10 innings in the championship game to cap an unbelievable 30-4 season.

When the clinching run came home in the bottom of the 10th, the Pirates spilled onto the field in a mad dash toward Nick Venditti, who drove in the runner from second.

“Oh man, our whole dugout came unglued,” Cranfill said. “For some reason, (Venditti) started running toward our bullpen and we chased him all the way out there. It was something else. We had a big 30-man dogpile out there.”

The Pirates made life miserable for opponents all season. They went 15-0 in the Mid-Atlantic-South Conference, beating up on Appalachian State, Elon, N.C. State, North Carolina and UNC-Wilmington. Then they won the Mid-Atlantic Regional title.

Then it was on to the eight-team NCBA World Series in Holly Springs from May 26-June 1.

ECU, seeded No. 1, dispatched No. 8 Michigan State 6-0 on May 26. Two days later in the second round, the Pirates annililated the defending World Series champ, No. 5 Nevada, by a score of 17-0.

Two days later in the semifinals, they thumped No. 6 Penn State 7-1. Sean Garbarino went seven innings, a reliever handled the eighth and Cranfill worked a clean ninth to close it out. It was Cranfill’s only appearance in the World Series, and he made the most of it, coaxing a ground out and a fly out before getting the next man on strikes. The fly to right was a little scary, the batter jumping on a hanging curveball. But fortunately for Cranfill, the ballpark held it.

“I was nervous,” Cranfill said. “There were a bunch of people there. It’d been a while since I threw in front of a big crowd. But I went in there and did my job. I got ahead in the count.”

Seniors Stephen Duncan (9-1 record, 0.84 ERA), Hatteras Brooks (8-1, 1.95) and Garbarino (8-0, 3.00) were illegally good as the starting rotation. So good that the bullpen was only needed for minimal support.

“All three of them were starters last year and they all made all-conference,” Cranfill said. “They did very well. Most of the time our starters would go seven or eight innings.”

In the winner-take-all championship game against No. 3 Central Florida on June 1, it was vintage Duncan. He went all 10 innings.

“I was waiting for my name to be called,” Cranfill said. “I was ready, but I felt confident in (Duncan). With it being his last game, he was running on adrenalin so much that I felt confident that he was going to get the job done.”

With one out in the bottom of the 10th, ECU’s leadoff man blooped a hit into center and turned it into a hustle double. The next batter, Venditti, knocked in the game’s only run with a hit to left.

After finishing as World Series runner-up in ‘16, the Pirates took the next step in ‘17 and piled up jubilantly on the field. It was no shock that Cranfill came through in his one inning of work   against Penn St. The 5-11, 230-pound sophomore from Mocksville was money all season in short relief. He went 2-0 with a 1.29 ERA in 11 relief outings. In 14 innings, he allowed 12 hits, three runs (two earned), walked three and struck out 17.

Cranfill was tied for first in relief appearances, fourth in wins and fourth in innings pitched.

“I was more of middle relief,” he said. “I closed a couple of games.”

A year ago, when Cranfill was pitching for the Mocksville Legion team after deciding not play on ECU’s club team as a freshman, he never imagined playing on a national championship-winning team.

“I just missed it,” he said. “I missed the camaraderie with the guys, being in the dugout and chatting it up. I’m really glad I decided to play this year. I had a heck of a time. It was a close-knit group of guys. We had about 20 seniors on the team. They all knew each other for three or four years. I fit right in and we meshed together perfectly.”

Cranfill has every intention of being back on the squad in 2018.

“I’m going to keep working this summer and get right back at it this fall,” he said. “I might be one of those top-three guys next year.”