Pivotal Match-up
Looming for Baseball Pirates

by Josh Spence

If you thought last weekend's series versus Tulane was big, just look at who’s up next.  East Carolina travels south to take on Southern Miss in another pivotal Conference USA series.  The Pirates could only manage one win against the Green Wave last weekend leaving ECU in a dead lock with Tulane and Southern Miss for third in the league standings at 7-8.  Recent published reports indicate that three teams from conference USA will likely be included in the field for the NCAA tournament.  That doesn’t mean teams below third are out, it just means they have a little work to do.  
Despite the series loss the Pirates have won twelve of their last sixteen, and the Pirates have done it in impressive fashion.  ECU is competing at a more complete level than it has all season long thanks to a recent surge in offense.  In the Pirates thirteen games since their two-hit shutout loss to UCF, ECU has not recorded less than seven hits in a game.  The Pirates also have scored less than three runs only once and have scored eight or more in seven of the thirteen.

This may not seem overly impressive but consider that in the 32 games before this recent hot streak, ECU had been held to less than three runs seven times including five shutouts.  The Pirates were also held to less than seven hits 6 times in those 32 games. 

The Pirates are growing up and getting better as a team, and at just the right time.  You can include the Pirates second and third wins over top 20 programs in the recent streak of twelve victories in sixteen tries.  And up that to three wins if you’re including Houston, which is now ranked number ten by Collegiate Baseball.

The Pirates win over Tulane last Saturday was the most complete effort of the season.  ECU won 13-3 behind Brody Taylor’s third complete game of the season.  Taylor scattered eight hits, allowing three runs, while the Pirate offense exploded for a season high four home runs to go along with a nearly flawless effort defensively.

ECU will need to magnify that effort over three games to have a chance against Southern Miss this weekend.  The Golden Eagles currently sit as one of four nationally ranked teams in Conference USA with a record of 31-16 overall, and have won four of their last five since getting swept at Rice including two over nationally ranked Mississippi State.  The Golden Eagles are the top hitting team in the conference leading the league with: a .317 batting average, .416 on base %, 387 runs scored, 522 hits, 347 RBI and 62 home runs.
East Carolina seems to have the edge in pitching and in the field.  The Golden Eagles won two at Marshall last weekend, lost two to Houston and Memphis, and swept UAB.  In the Rice sweep over USM the Owls held the Golden Eagles to no more than three runs in each game.  That looks good for ECU and its pitching advantage, but we all know how good Rice pitching is.

ECU has three conference series remaining (at USM, UAB, at Memphis) and a home and home series with Coastal Carolina.  To feel comfortable I think the Pirates need at least two out of three in every CUSA series, and cannot lose at home to Coastal, which is only 20-23, but boasts wins over Wake Forest, College of Charleston, and Winthrop.  If ECU can keep up the improved hitting and regain dominance on the mound it is possible the Pirates could get on a nice run heading into the CUSA tournament. For the Pirates the postseason has to start this weekend.

Josh Spence