Travelin’ down the road to Omaha
by Josh Spence

It’s early, but the start of the 2005 season already has a much different feel for East Carolina Baseball, than the start of 2004.  First of all, in 2004 the Pirates opened with 12 straight wins, and an impressive 18-3 start to an unforgettable year.  ECU started 2004 with 8 straight home games, and played 19 of their first 23 at home, much different than this year of course.  East Carolina is 5-3 as the Pirates were forced to open with 8 consecutive road contests, due to the completion of the brand new Clark-LeClair stadium. 

Another big difference is the decision of the Pirate Sports Network to carry complete coverage of the Pirates 56 game schedule, a first in the history of ECU baseball.  This gives many fans the much welcomed chance to follow the team every step of the way.

Gone are 7 Pirates from 2004 to the major Leagues, 5 of which made their own decision to leave the program, rather than finish out their college eligibility.  The pirates lost 70% of their home run production from a year ago, and return only 3 position starters in the field.  Combine that with the numerous injuries to the Pirate pitching staff, and it adds up to a lot of questions coming into this season. 

Well if you ask me, those questions have been answered.  Although the Pirates are a modest 5-3 through their first 8 games, the team has shown tremendous promise.  Offensively, the Pirates lead the conference in batting average (.348) and are currently tied for 2nd in Conference USA with 11 home runs.  That despite the fact that the team they trail, Tulane who leads the league with 12 homers, has played in eleven games, and the team they are tied with TCU, has already played ten games. East Carolina has found the offense as of late and through 8 games, the Pirates have yet to score less than 5 runs, and also have no less than 10 hits. 

Coming into the season the Pirate Pitching staff was probably at the top of the list of questions for most people.  Of course the Pirates are without last years ace, and 2004 Conference USA pitcher of the year, Greg Bunn.  Also missing are closers Dustin Sasser and Matt Bishop among others.  Sasser who will miss the 2005 season due to Tommy John surgery, led the Pirates in appearances last year with 20, while Bishop tied for the team lead for relievers with 36 strikeouts, before negating his final year of eligibility to play in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. 

As far as starters go, Brody Taylor, who was projected to be one of the Pirate starters, stands to miss the majority of this season following arm surgery in the off-season.  Shane Matthews who also was expected to be a starter has battled his own injuries.  Despite nursing an ankle injury, Shane made his only start in game 2 against the College of Charleston, but just wasn’t the Conference USA all freshman he was a year ago, pitching only three innings and giving up 10 hits and 5 runs. 

Despite the injuries ECU has made due with the emergence of some young stars.  P.J. Connelly has emerged as a probable starter for the Pirates.  P.J. leads all Pirates with 18 innings pitched and is 2-0.  And how about Mike Flye?  The Sophomore out of Greenville, and JH Rose high school came almost out of nowhere to be the Pirates top guy so far.  Mike is 3-0 with huge performances in the Pirate’s blowouts over nationally ranked Clemson, and NC State.  Flye gave up only 3 hits in both Pirate triumphs.  True freshman T.J. Hose has also been a pleasant surprise.  T.J. leads all Pirates in appearances with 4, and also has a team best E.R.A. at 1.17.

So where’s the recognition?  East Carolina played it’s first 8 games on the road, and has picked up wins against several nationally ranked opponents.  Let’s also not forget the pirates 3 losses. Two came at the College of Charleston, which is 20th in the Baseball America Poll, and 30th in Collegiate Baseball.  And the other came to a Coastal Carolina team ranked 23rd by Collegiate Baseball.  A good showing at one of the countries top tournaments this weekend will get ECU the recognition they deserve.

Josh Spence