Wayne County Trio on ECU Squad at Club Baseball World Series

Wayne County Trio on ECU Squad at Club Baseball World Series

ALTON, Illinois — Far from the glamour and legacy of one of North Carolina’s elite college baseball programs sits a team where second chances and the elusive characteristic — the love of the game — permeate in a return to collegiate athletics in its purest form. 

In a time when the transfer portal, name, image, likeness, and conference realignment have created an ever-shifting landscape, club baseball, and athletes willing to pay to play remain among college sports’ best-kept secrets. 

While the baseball program at East Carolina is steeped in tradition with a wealth of postseason success and a passionate fan base, three Wayne County natives have been authoring their own baseball stories as members of the Pirates’ club baseball program. 

Matt Kornegay (Southern Wayne), Will Albert (Rosewood), and Braeden Collins (Wayne Country Day) joined their teammates this week at the National Club Baseball Association Division I World Series in Alton, Ill. 

Competing on club baseball’s grandest stage with teammates who are much more like brothers, while playing a sport that injuries nearly caused him to walk away from, has been everything Kornegay could ever hope for. 

“It was hard to describe,” Kornegay said of clinching a spot in the World Series. “With my baseball experience injuries and things like that have held me back. I’ve been on a lot of teams that seemed like they had it all together, and they would get right there and every single regional they would lose, or something happens where we just fell short. It felt really good to be on a team that I’m so confident in. It could be the bottom of the ninth inning, and we’re down two runs and my team is going to come back and tie it or win it.”

East Carolina won its first two games of the double-elimination World Series with victories over Florida State and Texas A&M. Consecutive losses to Grand Canyon University, including a 7-2 defeat on Wednesday night, ended the Pirates’ season. 

East Carolina competes in the Mid-Atlantic South Conference along with N.C. State, UNC Chapel Hill, UNC Wilmington, Appalachian State and Elon. The Pirates finished the season 28-5 and went 13-2 against conference opponents, a record that earned them a first-place finish in the conference. 

Albert finished the season with a .434 batting average and a team-high 43 hits, 31 RBI, 36 runs scored, and 24 stolen bases. Collins hit .364 and went 1-0 on the mound with a 2.57 earned run average, and 11 strikeouts in seven innings pitched. 

Kornegay, who has battled multiple injuries since his time at Southern Wayne, saw his playing time this season limited by an ulnar collateral ligament injury. 

Having familiar faces that call Wayne County “home,” made the ups and downs of a memorable season all the more worthwhile for Kornegay, Albert, and Collins.

“It’s definitely different because being able to play with guys that you’ve grown up with all your life and not to say this is the peak of our careers, but it definitely is going to be one of the most memorable moments that we’ve had as ball players,” Kornegay said. “Just being able to grow up with guys like that, and then 10 or 15 years later after playing little league ball with them, knowing you’re about to take on a World Series, is one of those moments that you can never replace.”

The Pirates made their first trip to the National Club Baseball Association World Series in 2011 and made their ninth appearance this season. East Carolina won its only NCBA World Series championship in 2017.

With practices typically held twice a week, and three-game series on the weekends, club baseball provides players with a flexible schedule that still leaves time for academics and life outside of athletics.

As college athletics gradually transitions into a world where compensating players becomes more prevalent, club baseball is quite the opposite. Each member of East Carolina’s club team paid $1,250 at the beginning of the season to help cover the team’s expenses. 

After winning the Mid-Atlantic Regional Tournament at Hooker Field in Martinsville, Va., the Pirates collectively raised over $37,000 to help make getting to the World Series a reality on the diamond and financially. 

“Our dues (at the beginning of the season) that we had to provide for ourselves were $1,250 and then a $500 business sponsorship,” Kornegay said. “That got us through 25 or 26 games and four or five away series. For the World Series, it was a $37,000 budget. We ended up having to do a word-of-mouth fundraiser and there was a link that we could share with different businesses to get the word out there and get us some money. The school ended up giving us $15,000 so we could get flights for the World Series.”

Following high school, Kornegay originally received a preferred walk-on opportunity to continue his baseball career at the University of Mount Olive. His time with the Trojans was plagued by a lingering knee injury from high school, and Kornegay ultimately transferred to East Carolina. 

Unsure if baseball was in his future, Kornegay ultimately discovered club baseball through Albert. The second chance provided him the opportunity to rekindle his passion for the game, play alongside two other Wayne County natives, and ride the wave of an unforgettable season all the way to club baseball’s largest stage.

“I thought I was done with baseball,” Kornegay said. “I had pretty much given up on the dream but I had watched (Albert) go out there and play and go to practices, and I got the itch for it again. I had the knee injury that I had to think about as well for my long-term health. I feel like it’s a glorified men’s league. It’s the most fun thing you could do at this point in our careers to get back into the game. We have a lot of guys that come from junior college and just wanted to stay in it for the love of the game. It’s a bunch of guys that love the game and love the camaraderie of it all.”