Tall Task for ECU Baseball
by Josh Spence

The East Carolina baseball team will have its hands full attempting to make an eighth consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament.  The Pirates now sit 18-12 after 30 games and after dropping six of their last eight. They have put themselves in a tough spot as they prepare for the seasons’ final stretch.  The Pirates win over Houston on Sunday broke a five game losing streak, and enabled the team to avoid a sweep in the first home conference series of the year. 

For the most part, Pirate pitching has held up its part.  The starters for ECU have been able to give the team a chance most of the time.  The teams’ second weekend in conference play against Houston touched both ends of the pitching spectrum.  Saturday’s starting effort by Dustin Sasser was among the worst on the year and Brody Taylor’s showing on Sunday was perhaps the best.  For Sasser, the game likely was an anomaly, as he has been a large part of what the Pirates have accomplished thus far.  For Taylor it was hopefully not an anomaly.  He has shown progress in each outing since returning from injury, culminating that progress last Sunday with the first complete game shutout of his career.  The Pirates have benefited from having Taylor in the starting rotation and he has flourished in the role, earning a well-deserved CUSA pitcher of the week honor for his efforts.  

Hitting on the other hand has been the issue, sort of.  The Pirates team batting average is low at .277, but that’s not the whole story.  ECU has been able to hit, just not necessarily when it counts.  In the two series thus far in conference play, the Pirates have left a total of 59 runners on base (27 @ Rice, 32 vs. UH), besting or tying opponents for the most runners left on in every single game.  Consider also the fact that the Pirates out-hit the Cougars in all three games of the series but managed only one victory.

East Carolina is proud to be one of twelve schools that have attended seven consecutive NCAA baseball tournaments.  During that stretch the Pirates have gotten into the tourney with no less that 33 wins.  In 2003 the Pirates had 33 wins following the CUSA tournament and were selected as the three seed in the Atlanta, GA regional.  Last year the team had 35 wins and an uneasy feeling heading into selection day, but received a bid as the three seed in the Tempe, AZ regional. 

With 26 games remaining ECU will have to finish the season 15-11 to get to the 33 win mark in the regular season.  Perhaps wins over teams like Rice and Houston, and UNCW will make the difference for the Pirates to get over the hump and into the tournament.  However to feel comfortable on selection day, they will need more.  To feel safe the Pirates will need to win at least 35 games, which could include a couple of victories in the conference tournament. 

Receiving the automatic bid for winning the CUSA tournament is another option, and the Pirates might be the kind of team to do it.  ECU is a team laden with talent that just can’t seem to get it all working at the same time, at least not yet.  If the Pirates pitch like we all know they can, and get some guys to step up at the plate against solid pitching, this team can compete with the best in the country.  Can they do it?  With 26 games remaining we’ll find out soon enough.  East Carolina hosts NC A&T for the second time this season on Tuesday night.  The Pirates beat the Aggies 14-3 on March 8th.

Josh Spence