East Carolina is smack
in the middle of the toughest part of the schedule and the team's
postseason hopes may hinge on how they perform over the next four
weeks. The problem is ECU will have to do it without its leading
Starting shortstop Billy Richardson injured his left hand swinging at a
pitch in last Saturday's win over Charlotte. Richardson had
surgery yesterday and will most likely be out for several weeks.
Billy's return to the field depends on how fast he can recover, but the
Pirate coaches are optimistic he will be back this season.
The latest setback follows a rash of injuries to the ECU pitching staff
and comes with a crucial stretch of games lying ahead. The
Pirates are sporting just a 1-5 league record and hit the road for two
of their next three Conference USA series.
Up this weekend is a trip to TCU where the Pirates were swept back in
2003. Perennial C-USA contender Southern Miss visits Greenville
in two weeks and ECU follows up that series with a trip to
Louisville. Last weekend the Cardinals took two out of three from
then No. 1 Tulane.
"You never know with Conference USA," said ECU third baseman Mark
Minicozzi. "It's still early, we just want to take it one game at
a time and at the end of the season start worrying about positioning."
The good news is ECU will have most of its games against C-USA's elite
teams out of the way by the end of April. The Pirates close out
the season with series against Memphis, Cincinnati, South Florida, UAB
and St. Louis. All are teams East Carolina has traditionally
fared well against and 9 of those 15 games will be at home.
The remaining non-conference schedule has three games against NC State,
two against North Carolina and a possible make-up trip to UNCW.
Richardson's presence will certainly be missed regardless of whom the
Pirates are playing. The senior had started every game before the
injury and was batting a league best .423 (minimum 17 games, ECU's
Brian Cavanaugh batting .473 in 15 games started).
Freshman Dale Mollenhauer will likely replace Richardson in the lineup.
"Dale's a young guy, he's got a great glove and he can hit too," said
As of Wednesday the freshman had played in 18 games and started 11,
mostly at second base. He was sporting a .250 batting average
with 7 RBI.
"It's an unfortunate situation for Billy", said Mollenhauer. "As
a team we're going to have to pull forward. We need wins."
Richardson will be missed not only because of his skills but his
leadership as well. Now a young Pirate lineup will try and get
the defending Conference USA champs back at the top of the league
standings where they belong.