Pirates and Wolfpack: Round 1
by Josh Spence

Wednesday night marks the first of three match-ups on the year for ECU and NC State on the baseball diamond.  The two teams renew a rivalry over forty years old when the Pirates travel to Raleigh at 7:00.  For both teams the series could prove pivotal come seasons end.  Ever-important quality wins will be on the line with both teams receiving some respect on the national landscape. 

NC State (21-8) recently dropped from the Baseball America top 25 having lost four in a row including being swept at Clemson in an ACC series last weekend.  However, despite the tough week the Wolfpack, stayed in at number 17 in the coach’s poll, showing respect from the country’s coaches. 

East Carolina (17-9) is coming off a conference opening series loss, two games to one at new conference member and pre-season favorite Rice.  Despite losing games two and three, the Pirates pulled off a win over the highest ranked opponent in school history (Rice was #2) on Friday night.   

Wednesdays contest marks number 91 between the two teams, with NC State leading the all time series 55-35.  Most recently the teams met four times last year with NC State winning three of the four.  The Pirates got a 13-1 win over State early in the year at the Homewood Suites Shootout in Charleston, SC, but it was all Pack the rest of the year.  State won 11-4 in Raleigh before taking a pair of 3-0 victories in Greenville. 

The pirates could need wins like this towards the end of the year.  Last year the Pirates were given an at-large bid to play in the team’s seventh consecutive NCAA tournament, but had to watch the selection show to see if they got in.  It was that close.  The team had a 35-24 record heading into selection day.  Of course one of the Pirates goals will be to host the regional round of the tournament this year.  Last year eleven of the sixteen regional hosts finished the regular and conference seasons (including conference tournaments) with forty or more wins.  The Pirates would have to finish 23-7 to reach forty in the regular season, not counting what the team would do in the CUSA tournament. 

Twenty-one of the Pirates remaining thirty games will be in Conference USA.  In a conference that boasts eight of its nine members with winning records, wins won’t come easy.  Therein lays the importance of these mid-week showdowns with non-conference opponents.  The NC State games in addition to midweek meetings with Coastal Carolina highlight the Pirates midweek chances.

A tough conference schedule should help the Pirates come selection day, especially if they play like they did at Rice last weekend.  Although the Pirates won only once, they can hold their heads high following a solid performance all weekend long.  The lack of timely hits, and missed defensive assignments made the difference in the Saturday and Sunday losses.  The same could not be said of the Pirates trip to Cal State Fullerton. 

In addition to key victories lately, wins by former Pirate opponents may have lessened the blow of some of the team’s losses.  Maryland has pulled off wins against nationally ranked ACC foes Miami, and at UNC.  Virginia Tech recently won series against UNC, and UVA and also won one game at NC State. 

Things are moving in the right direction for ECU baseball.  However, for things to continue that way the team will need to find a better rhythm at the plate.  ECU’s team bating average has fallen to .274, while pitching has been excellent for the most part.  Brody Taylor looks to be a great addition to the weekend rotation after a very solid performance against Rice last Sunday.  It gives the Pirates two southpaws on the weekend and very capable starter Shane Mathews mid-week.  The combo of starting pitching and exceptional relief will need to continue for the Pirates to excel. 

ECU plays its second conference series of the year against Houston this weekend in Greenville, after taking on NC State in Raleigh Wednesday night.  Remember you can hear every ECU baseball game right here on Pirate Radio 1250 & 930, “The Home of the Pirates!”

Josh Spence