Full Circle
by Josh Spence

Saying the ECU baseball team has come full circle under coach Billy Godwin may be premature.  After all, the Pirates are a season removed from missing the NCAA tournament for only the first time since 1998.  However, winners of their last 13 games, and 17 of their last 18, ECU is trying to make sure that this year is nothing like last year.  So far it's been almost opposite.

In 2006 the Pirates went 10-14 in Conference USA play.  Heading into the last series of the conference schedule, the Pirates had a chance to finish above .500 in the league.  Their opponent would be Memphis, an upstart team that was trying to pull itself out of the C-USA cellar.  Optimistic, the Pirates traveled to Memphis looking to close out the regular year on a positive note in anticipation of another postseason chance.  The optimism lasted until the bottom of the ninth inning in game one. 

Leading 6-5 heading into the final frame, the Pirates gave up a walk-off grand slam to lose 9-6.  The next day it was more of the same as Memphis used more heavy hitting to win game two 14-6.  The fireworks continued in a high scoring game three.  In a game that saw a combined 10 home runs, Memphis got a walk off hit in the bottom of the ninth to win 11-10 and sweep the series.  The Pirates left heartbroken.  Words can't describe the feeling on the team bus that day.  Not only had the Pirates scored 22 runs with no wins to show for it, but their post season hopes were all but dashed as well. 

What a difference a year makes.  The 2007 Pirates are coming off of an impressive series sweep of largely the same Memphis team.  The conference season opening series for both teams was strangely familiar to the series that ended the conference slate for both last year, just opposite.  After the Tigers took a 10-4 advantage in the top of the sixth of game one on Friday, the tables turned.  The Pirates used three-run homeruns by Drew Schieber and Dale Mollenhauer and scored the final eight runs of the game and win 12-10.  From there the Pirates didn't look back.  After that eight-run sixth inning by Memphis, the Pirates outscored the Tigers 31-1 the rest of the series to complete the sweep.

With that sweep the Pirates have now successfully avenged two series sweeps from 2006.  The Pirates were swept three times last year.  Cal State Fullerton, Memphis and Southern Miss held that distinction.  Two down, one to go.

The recent success has garnered the Pirates some national attention.  Several players have been named to the College Baseball Foundation National Honor Roll, and the Pirates have seen their national ranking increase each week since first entering the polls in early March. 

The next nine games will tell the true tale.  Wednesday night the Pirates host UNCW to complete a 20 game home-stand.  It will be the first of two always competitive games with the Seahawks in the next two weeks.  Then this weekend its back on the road as the Pirates head to New Orleans to take on perennial power Tulane.  ECU then plays a midweek contest at nationally ranked NC State before heading back home to face top-10 ranked Rice. 

The Pirates schedule following those nine games is no picnic, with series against Southern Miss, Houston, and UCF and a pair of midweek games against top 10 ranked North Carolina.  However, over the next nine I think we'll get to see just how good this team really is.  In fact, the next nine games for the Pirates might be as tough as any team in the country.

The true test remains to be winning on the road, something in all their success the Pirates have not done this year.  In fact under head coach Billy Godwin the Pirates have a mere 4-18 record on the road.  Proving the ability to once again win away from the friendly confines of Clark LeClair Stadium might be enough to get ECU back to the postseason, and bring the Pirates full circle.

Josh Spence