After a shortened and injury-plagued 2020 season, East Carolina junior pitcher Gavin Williams helped bring his team to the Super Regional in the 2021 NCAA Division I Baseball Tournament.
Williams entered this season after only playing two games last year due to injuries and the COVID-19 outbreak. The season prior, he appeared in 21 games with 49.1 innings pitched.
This season, however, he appeared in 14 games with 74 innings pitched. Going into the Super Regional matchup against Vanderbilt, he has a 10-0 record, tied for the second-most victories by a pitcher without a loss this season.
Williams has served as the catalyst for this Pirates team all season. His head coach, Cliff Godwin, raved about his contributions to the team throughout the season.
“There’s no secret that if Gavin Williams was not our Friday night starter, we would not be sitting where we are today,” Godwin said. “What he has done for us in solidifying the Friday night role. He’s as good as an ace as we’ve ever had here.”
A finger injury kept Williams sidelined for much of the 2020 season. Coming into his 2021 campaign, he totaled 38 total games played after three seasons at ECU. Leading the team this season, after limited action last year, has been something Williams is proud of.
“Honestly, it’s very rewarding,” Williams said. “Especially not being able to play that much last year. It’s a big step, really.”
In 2017, the Tampa Bay Rays drafted Williams before he played a college game. He declined to sign, however, and began his ECU career. After just two appearances last season, Williams went undrafted despite being a highly touted prospect.
But it does not seem to faze him.
“I think it’s worked out pretty good,” Williams said. “I feel like I had people to prove that I can actually start and basically go as long as I can in the whole season.”
As the Pirates prepare for the Commodores, Williams looks forward to the environment of the Super Regional. As the postseason games for the Pirates have been at home thus far, he looks forward to competing on the road.
“It’s gonna be fun, I can tell you that,” Williams said. “I’ve always dreamed about pitching in one of those places.”
The Cape Fear High graduate does not back down from an opportunity to pitch. Taking on the role of the team’s leader in strikeouts, he stays ready for when his name is called.
“I’m always feeling good. I always want the ball, too,” Williams said. “Doesn’t matter if I’m gonna be relieving or starting. I always want the ball.”
This mindset is affirmed by his teammate and roommate, sophomore infielder Connor Norby. As someone who lives with him and gets a closer look than the rest of his teammates, he understands Williams’ approach to the game.
“He’s got that mentality now,” Williams said. “He’s dangerous. He’s really good, and I’m really proud of him and what he’s done. But I know he’s gonna be ready to go come Friday or Saturday or whenever he throws.”
Norby is also a talented player and has been nominated for the 2021 Bobby Bragan Collegiate Slugger Award with 100 hits and 51 RBI this season. Living with one of the best pitchers in the country allows for many productive conversations about baseball.
Though Williams said he does not remember facing off against Norby in practice, he still makes sure to help him with his game.
“I probably bug him a lot,” Williams said. “I give him a lot of mess all the time. He’s always getting an earful from me, so I feel like I’m making him better every day.”
Though the Pirates are underdogs in this weekend’s Super Regional, Godwin has confidence that the team can compete, in large part because of Williams’ abilities as a pitcher.
“Every time he’s going out there, he’s giving us an opportunity to win,” Godwin said. “Even last weekend, when he doesn’t have his best stuff, he’s giving us a chance to win against really good opponents. He’s held his own. Want him to go out there and be himself this weekend.”
As for Williams himself, his sights are set on doing just that: being himself regardless of the perceived odds.
“I just look at it as another baseball game,” Williams said. “Can’t really worry about those types of things. The more you worry about it, the worse you’re going to do.”
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