ARTICLE OF THE DAY

Pirates Stepping Up
by Coach Gary Overton
4/19/05

Just two weeks ago the ECU Baseball Pirates were sitting at 2-8 in Conference play with the prospect of having to face the most potent of offensive teams in Southern Mississippi two more times. Since then it seems as though a lot has changed, but has it really? Two victories over an upper tier CUSA opponent followed by a sweep of mid-tier Louisville and the Pirates, according to some, may be back on track for a good season. The fact is these baseball pirates have played aggressively with confidence throughout the entire season and except for a common nemesis, that being a late inning home run when playing on the road, ECU may well be on the way to another stellar season. Twice at Tulane and once at College of Charleston did the Pirates give up leads in the final inning but playing hard has been the norm more than the exception for this team.

One only needs to look at a most challenging schedule which includes as many as eleven teams who are ranked or have been ranked by a poll this year. Included in the rankings are/were N.C. State, UNC, Clemson, Michigan, Georgia, Arizona State, Tulane, TCU, Southern Miss, College of Charleston and Coastal Carolina. Strength of Schedule may not be the most difficult in the country but it sure can’t be far from the top. It is therefore easy to see why ECU carries such a high RPI (Ratings Percentage Index) which measures the strength of a team based on its’ performance and its’ opponents performance alike, regardless of total wins and losses. This index is also a criteria used by the NCAA selection committee when handing out bids to post-season play and the Pirates currently stand 17th of the 290 Division I teams. Speaking of that topic, has anyone noticed Baseball America and SE Baseball make and change weekly predictions of who is going to the NCAA Regionals and where each team is to be placed. One constant has East Carolina in the 64 team field each and every time a prognostication is made.

In addition to the schedule take a look at the .312 team batting average and the play of Brian Cavanaugh (.402) who was only overshadowed by the emergence of newfound power hitting Billy Richardson (.423) for most of the season. These two seniors have not only served the Pirates well but have provided valuable leadership for younger players as role models and “coaches on the field”. Those younger players include four freshmen who sometimes play like upperclassmen and aggressively take on any task without blinking an eye. Ryan Peisel (.388) plays first or third equally well and Dale Mollenhauer (.292) has moved from second to shortstop to form a very capable left side of the infield. Jamie Ray (.327) and Harrison Eldridge (.340) have posted good offensive numbers but their outfield defense is even more impressive as both can run down balls with the best. Factor in Jake Smith is only warming up while Drew Costanzo (.292)  Mike Grace (.313) Adam Witter (.286) and Mark Minicozzi (.322) gives the middle of this Pirate lineup increasing merit with 23 home runs among them.

Pirate hitters have left a large number of men on base as evidenced by the 14 men LOB in the 10 inning loss to UNC-Charlotte earlier. And it’s no secret the Pirate pitching staff has had trouble getting hitters out at times this year but through experience and the accumulation of innings those same young pitchers are showing much improvement with time. Ricky Brooks flirts with a no-hitter, Kevin Rhodes enters in the first and leaves in the eighth with a victory in tow. P.J. Connelly has started eleven games and the season is just past the halfway mark while T.J. Hose seems to have found his niche as a starter (remember Greg Bunn) and gets better each time out. Scott Andrews has very good numbers (just ask Arizona St. and UNC-W) and who could forget the performance of Mike Flye against Clemson and their projected 1st round starter.

The Pirates are now 7-8 and 21-13 overall against formidable opposition and college baseball gurus are predicting an NCAA tournament berth. These same Pirates have proven the will, knowledge and talent to win games exists so nothing has really changed. ECU baseball is now gearing up for a finish like fans know and appreciate so with the tougher opponents in the rear view mirror, don’t be surprised if that NCAA berth is coupled with a soaring finish in Conference USA (and who said anything about injuries).
 
Coach Gary Overton