C-USA Tournament Preview
by Josh Spence

Wednesday marks the beginning of the 2006 C-USA tournament.  East Carolina opens the tournament, literally, versus Tulane early Wednesday morning at 10 a.m. (EDT).  The Pirates are the 6th seed after a 32-24, 10-14 regular season finish, and will take on Tulane the 3rd seed for the fourth time this season. 

Tulane won the regular season series over ECU with the Green Wave taking two out of three in Greenville, but the series could have had a much different outcome.  The Pirates won Brody Taylor’s start 13-3 in game 2 of the series in what was probably the team’s best all around effort of the season.  ECU had a good chance to win game 1 against Tulane ace Sean Morgan, but gave up 5 runs in the ninth to lose 9-5.  Now Taylor and Morgan will go head-to-head as the two aces face off in game one of the C-USA tournament.

After losing the last four regular season games of the year ECU must win the C-USA tournament to advance to the team’s eighth consecutive NCAA regional.  The Pirates only previous C-USA tournament championship came in 2002 when the Pirates owned the 6th seed.  A big difference however is that the Pirates hosted that tourney in Kinston.  Now the Pirates have to get it done on the road, as Rice hosts this tournament in Houston.

Here’s a look at the rest of the tourney field.  Rice owns the number 1 seed losing only two conference games all year.  Houston finished 2nd, and Tulane 3rd.  Fourth is Memphis, 5th goes to Southern Miss, the Pirates 6th, Marshall 7th and UAB 8th.  In the tournament the 1 takes on the 8 in the first round with 2 meeting 7 and so forth, all competing in double elimination format.  For a complete look at the brackets click HERE.

So Morgan for Tulane and Taylor for the Pirates, with both teams needing a win in game one they throw the pitcher that gives them the best chance.  For other teams however this is where tournament strategy comes in to play.  Throwing your ace in the first game does a couple of things.  You give yourself your best chance in game 1, and then open up the possibility that your ace could come back and pitch again should you reach the finals on Sunday.  According to team sources Taylor has the quickest turnaround of any Pirate pitcher. 

For ECU there really is no other option.  The Pirates will need Taylor to win and then have other pitchers (including the bullpen) to step up.  However teams like Houston and Rice have other options.  Rice will take on UAB in the first round, the question being: Will they put stud Eddie Deggerman on the hill, knowing that the winner of the USM Memphis game awaits them in round two?  How about Houston?  Will they start Brad Lincoln in game 1 knowing that the ECU-Tulane winner awaits them in game 2?  Likely the answer is yes to both questions, because again, that gives your stud pitcher a chance to come back and pitch in the Championship game.  Either way, it shows how strategy plays into the tourney even before the games begin. 

The regular season didn’t end the way the Pirates would have liked as ECU lost its last four.  However, the 6th seed could be a blessing in the skies.  The Pirates play Tulane and starter Sean Morgan in game1, and again ECU almost beat Morgan earlier this year.  With Taylor on the mound the Pirates will be that much more confident. A win in game one and ECU takes on the Houston-Marshall winner, likely Houston, which will likely throw Lincoln against the Thundering Herd.  A win in that game propels ECU to a match-up with a team out of the loser’s bracket, before ever meeting a team from the opposite bracket which contains USM, Memphis, UAB and host team Rice.

We’ll see how it all shakes out as the Pirates take on Tulane in game one on Wednesday morning.

Josh Spence