Greenville, North Carolina is a small college town in the Eastern part of North Carolina. Located less than 90 miles to the east of Raleigh it is home to East Carolina University. It is recognized as the 10th largest city in North Carolina, however if you ever spent time in Greenville you will notice a considerable decrease in traffic along Greenville Blvd between the first week of May and the last week of May each year as the students attending ECU head home for the summer.
The ECU athletics program has been making a splash in the mainstream since I arrived there 10 years ago. Star running back Chris Johnson led ECU to a Hawaii Bowl victory over ranked Boise State to end the 2007 season. Then, without Johnson who was drafted to the Tennessee Titans, ECU started off the 2008 season with back-to-back wins over ranked teams, Virginia Tech and West Virginia, and won back-to-back Conference USA Championships in 2008 and 2009. ECU Football was ranked as high as #14 in that 2008 season and was ranked again in 2013 as high as #18. The Men’s Basketball team won the CIT Championship during the 2012-13 season while the Women’s team won the Conference USA Championship in 2006-07 to earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
While football and basketball are the big money sports for ECU, the team with the most success the last decade has been the ECU Baseball team. Receiving far less attention than both football or basketball, ECU Baseball has been stamping their mark on the sport lately. Though they have only won one Conference Championship, 2015 American Athletic Conference, they have appeared in the NCAA Tournament 7 times in the past 10 years, advancing to the Super Regional Game in 2009 and 2016.
With their recent success and national platform it is no surprise that much of the attention in the town of Greenville centers around ECU. Many of the locals work for the University or have attended the University. and throughout the town you will see several businesses donning the purple and gold colors of their beloved Pirates. On Saturday mornings during football season you will see thousands of students and locals alike tailgating around the campus.
But this summer, the eyes of the town have shifted from the University to the locals as Greenville Little League advanced to the Little League World Series US Championship game. I personally have umpired Greenville Little League for the past 7 years and if there is one thing that can be said of that program, it is dedication. Before moving to Greenville to attend ECU, I umpired Little League all across Nassau County in New York from 2003 until 2010, including the Merrick-North team of 2005 that went on to win the New York Regional Championship.
The passion among Greenville residents and Little League director is evident throughout the year as fields across the city are filled with individuals and teams getting in practice. During the off-season it is a common occurrence to see a young athlete taking swings in the batting cage at Next Level or Sports Connection. There is a Fall Ball league geared towards developing tomorrow’s star players and an intense Spring League.
Nothing stops this town from playing baseball, not even floods. In the Fall of 2016, Hurricane Matthew had a severe impact on Greenville, NC. Many residents were forced to leave their homes due to flooding and several lost everything they owned to the flood water. The community rallied together as residents took in displaced strangers and residents, schools and businesses from all over town came out to donate and volunteer with the clean up efforts. As seen on ESPN, at least one player from the Greenville, NC team was displaced during that flood. While schools and businesses closed their doors for up to a week after the flooding began, there was one thing the residents could count on as being “normal.” The field at Perkins Athletic Complex, wet and muddy, were made playable thanks to the tireless efforts of the Greenville Little League Director. The attendance at those games were larger than other Fall Ball games I umpired that year as the town took a break from the reality of the flood and watched as the kids simply played ball. The field was muddy and the play was sloppy, but none of that mattered to those who came out to watch. In December 2016, Greenville Little League hosted a fundraiser baseball tournament and raised over $20,000 for the residents affected by the flooding.
In the last 7 years as an umpire for Greenville Little League I have seen some great players, including those in the Little League World Series now, and I also had my fair share of arguments with coaches and run-ins with parents. These run-ins were mild at best, leading to just 2 ejections, but reinforced the image that Greenville, NC is passionate about their Little League baseball. So much so that they built a stadium behind home plate of their home field at Elm Street Park. The major renovation took 6 months to complete and the finished product is one of the nicest Little League fields that I have ever seen. The stadium style chairs holds up to 234 fans, while the outfield viewing deck and brick walls enclosing the field (Both added in 2007) gives Stalling Stadium at Elm Street Park a “Big League Feel.” Each year since 2010 Greenville has hosted the Tournament of State Champions for 9-11 year olds and in 2014 they added an 8-10 year olds division to the ToSC. This tournament invites the State Champion team from surrounding states to come compete in an exhibition tournament. Past participants have included teams from North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Virginia, Tennessee, and West Virginia.
The renovations have clearly paid off now that Greenville has advanced to the Little League World Series and playing in Lamade Stadium. While other teams may be awestruck by the stadium atmosphere at Lamade, Greenville has kept their poise and have simply been outstanding.
How good has Greenville Little League really been through the first 3 games?
In game one, three Greenville pitchers combined for a Perfect Game. According to ESPN Stats & Info, this was the first Perfect Game since 2008. It was the 5th Perfect Game since 1970 and the first by a United States team. In their second game of the tournament, Greenville dominated again to be the first United States team to throw consecutive no-hitters in their 16-0 win over the West (Japan and Chinese Taipei have done this as well). In that game star pitcher Matthew Matthijs walked two batters, though the first of those walks arguably should have been a strikeout, as the only base runners of the game for the West.
By game 3, the entire country had caught wind of this amazing accomplishment and watched as Greenville attempted to be just the 2nd team to throw 3 consecutive no-hitters in the Little League World Series (Chinese Taipei did it in 1973). They went up against Lufkin, Texas representing the Southwest. Lufkin had also been a force through the first 2 games slugging 6 home runs while holding opponents to just 6 hits. Again, Greenville did not seem phased even after letting up their first hit of the tournament, a leadoff double to Mark Requena in the 3rd inning. Pinch runner, Zach Phillips, would later advance to 3rd on a wild pitch and score on a fielder’s choice. After that score, Greenville brought Matthew Mattijs in to pitch and what he did was just as impressive as the Perfect Game and consecutive no hitters. He completely shut down the Lufkin team. The next batter grounded into a fielder’s choice to end the inning. In the 4th inning, Matthijs started with a strikeout, then a groundout back up the middle. After that, Matthijs really hit his zone and struck out the next 11 batters to end the game.
Greenville has put up one of the most impressive starts to the Little League World Series of all time. Here is a look at some of their feats:
- First US team to pitch a Perfect Game
- First US team to pitch back-to-back no-hitters
- Outscored opponents 24-1
- Team total of 31 strikeouts
- Team Opponent Batting Average of .019 (3rd Lowest All Time)
- Chinese Taipei .000 in 1973, Chinese Taipei .016 in 1979
- Matthew Mattijs – Opponent Batting Average of .000 through 9 innings pitched
- 3rd pitcher to record .000 with minimum of 7 innings pitched
- Also has 0 runs, 20 strikeouts and 2 walks
Can Greenville Little League continue their hot streak this weekend?
I will be traveling up to Williamsport to watch them this weekend as they have a rematch against the team of Lufkin, Texas in the United States Championship game this Saturday at 3pm. The winner advances to the Little League World Series Championship game and will face off against the winner of the International Championship game between Japan and Mexico.