Pirates in the Midst of Crucial Run
by Josh Spence

Tuesday’s loss to Coastal Carolina broke a four game winning streak for ECU baseball, and the loss could prove to be costly.  The Pirates had previously won four in a row and things seemed to be headed in the right direction, with the Pirates rebounding from a string of four consecutive losses and six defeats out of seven.  However, the loss to Coastal puts the Pirates at 32-21 on the year with only three regular season games left to get to that mystical number 35, which many consider the key to making the field of 64 for the NCAA tournament.

What a streaky team the Pirates have turned out to be.  The Pirates recent four-game winning streak was the teams’ third such streak this year, with the longest win streak at six games.  On the flip side, the Pirates have suffered three losing streaks at three games or worse, with the longest at five games. 

The 2006 Pirates have been a difficult team to label.  ECU relied on its deep pitching staff at the start of the year, with the offense leaving much to be desired.  Lately the Pirates have shown stellar offense, which was proven by the team’s effort last week when ECU scored no less than ten runs in all four wins.  In fact, the Pirates’ one-run effort in game three against Southern Miss was the first time the team scored less than two runs since the shutout loss the Pirates suffered against UCF pitcher Tim Bascom on April 7th.  

East Carolina has been good all year long, but has had trouble putting it all together at one time.  Think about some of the losses that could have gone the other way.  Just last weekend at Southern Miss the Pirates allowed the Golden Eagles to come back from early deficits in the first two ball games.  East Carolina also could have easily won two out of three against Tulane, giving up the lead in the ninth inning of game one.  The Pirates lost two one run games on the road at NC State in walk off fashion, and have lost by one run in three other games this year.

Perhaps this team is peaking, and maybe more importantly getting it all together at exactly the right time.  The absence of TJ Hose hurts, but he could still be used in relief.  I’ve said all year long that this team has the starting pitching and the depth in the bullpen to win in a tournament atmosphere.  Backing that up are pitchers Brody Taylor and Shane Matthews.  Taylor has emerged as the ace with TJ out of the rotation and Brody has been excellent.  Taylor has pitched the Pirates to three complete games in his last four appearances and has gotten the Pirates into the seventh inning in all but one of his starts.  Matthews has come on strong recently with four straight solid outings, with the best coming last weekend against UAB.  Matthews went a season long seven innings, allowing 4 hits and no runs.  Shane’s last five decisions have all been wins.

Offensively the Pirates seem to be putting it together as well.  ECU has scored ten or more runs in eight of its last fourteen ballgames.  There were times during the season when ECU had only one batter hitting over .300. Now the Pirates have seven.  As a team the Pirates are batting .304 and have gotten some strong performances at the plate recently.  Making the most noise of late is Ryan Tousley, who has raised his average to a season high .291 with a 12-game hitting streak.  Adam Witter has been hot as well and recently hit a home run in four consecutive at bats.  Jake Smith has regained his plate savvy and since missing five games with a quad injury Smith has hit safely in nine of ten games. He is batting .476 with five home runs and 20 RBIs.

The Pirates seem to have regained their confidence and are playing their best baseball at the right time, despite the loss to Coastal on Tuesday.  Sure the Pirates four recent wins have come against Coastal and UAB, but there is something to be said for winning games you should win and at a time when you almost have to.  ECU currently sits tied for fourth in the league standings at 10-11 with Southern Miss and Memphis.  ECU and Memphis begin a huge conference USA series this Thursday at 7:30.

Josh Spence