Top Five Keys
to a Pirate Postseason Run

by Josh Spence

The East Carolina baseball team improved to 21-13 with an 8-1 win over UCF on Sunday.  With the win, the Pirates get their first conference series win of the year and have now won four of their last five games, and it couldn’t have come at a more crucial time.  The Pirates' streak of four out of five followed a five-game losing streak that left the team at 17-12, wondering if an eighth consecutive berth in the NCAA tournament was even possible. 

It is possible, but it won’t be easy. Recently, Will Kimmey at Baseball America projected that the Pirates would participate in the NCAA tourney this year.  Here are the top five keys necessary for the Pirates to meet that projection.

1.    Win conference games. East Carolina is now 4-5 in conference play after winning two out of three at UCF.  The Pirates currently sit sixth in C-USA but have perhaps an easier schedule in front than behind.  ECU has series remaining with two teams in front of them in the standings and also the three behind them.  The Pirates have this weekend off from conference play (hosting Albany for 3 games) before welcoming Marshall, and then Tulane, as the Pirates play three straight home weekends.  The Pirates will have to win the games they are supposed to (UAB, Marshall), and series with Tulane, Southern Miss, and Memphis could be pivotal.  The good news… the Pirates have a win over the two teams currently atop the standings.  ECU got one over Houston which is 2nd at 7-2, and handed Rice its only conference loss.  The Owls lead C-USA at 8-1.  Conference USA is projected to have five teams in an NCAA regional, which could change, but the Pirates want to be sure to be in that top 5 come seasons end.

2.    Hitting.  You don’t have to be more than a casual observer to know that the Pirates need to be better at the plate.  Team batting average is .276, with only two Pirates hitting above .300.  Sophomore Jamie Ray .302, and freshman Ryan Wood .333.  Most guys on the team have had hot stretches during the year, but the team can’t seem to get going at one time, pinpointing the issue at hitting with runners on base.  The Pirates have also struggled against good pitching, which to be fair they have faced a lot of.  ECU will need seniors Jake Smith Adam Witter and Jay Mattox to lead the way offensively.  If those guys hit others will follow.

3.    Starting Pitching.  Brody Taylor has emerged recently as the stud of the pitching staff.  With his complete game shutout of Houston, and then eight inning performance scattering seven hits against UCF, Brody has been almost lights out.  TJ Hose and Dustin Sasser have run into problems recently, although Sasser responded with a nice performance against UCF to give the Pirates a chance to win.  The fact is that you can’t put all the blame on these guys’ shoulders, as the Pirates offense has not always held up its end of the bargain.  In fact all of the starters have had good starts end up with a loss or no-decision thanks to a lack of timely hits.  See key number 2.  ECU has enough depth in the bullpen to close out games if starters can continue to get the team into the late innings.

4.    Finish.  At bats, innings, games, just finish.  Something the team has had trouble with at times, if you have listened to our interviews with Coach Godwin it is something he has talked about all season.  He was especially concerned with situations in which the team has an advantage.  For example pitchers getting up 0-2 in a count and allowing hits, or getting two outs in an inning only to allow a 2-out rally.  The ability to close out situations will be key for the team down the stretch. 

5.    Confidence.  The series win over UCF was big for the Pirates in terms of wins and losses, but maybe more important in terms of confidence.  The team seemed to have a breakout performance offensively in the seventh inning on Saturday scoring five runs in the frame.  That breakout followed a 2 hit shutout by UCF’s Tim Bascom on Friday.  Confidence seems to be something this team lacks (at least at times), and for a team that in my opinion has talent to burn, if they can get confidence back, especially at the plate, watch out.

Josh Spence