Pirates Come Up Short
by Josh Spence

For the first time since 1998 the East Carolina Baseball team will not be participating in the NCAA tournament.  East Carolina finished the year 33-26, after a 1-2 performance in the C-USA tournament.  Here’s a look at the leading headlines heading into the off-season as we look ahead to 2007. 

The Pirates say goodbye to eight seniors following the ’06 campaign.  The Pirates will lose four pitchers and four position players to graduation.  Right now it’s hard to say where the biggest loss will be felt.  The Pirates lose starter and 2nd team all C-USA performer Brody Taylor whose stellar season (not to mention career) was a big part of the success the Pirates did have.  In addition ECU says goodbye to Carter Harrell, Kevin Rhodes, and Scott Andrews who all provided depth in the bullpen in their respective careers.  All three were above average players that will be missed.       

The biggest loss however could be offensively.  The 2007 Pirates will be without the services of the “Bash-Brothers”, Adam Witter and Jake Smith.  The two earned the title by slugging nearly half of the Pirates home-runs (27), nearly a third of the teams runs batted in (107), and more than a quarter of the team’s doubles (28).  Both slugged better than .544 and proved to be a thorn in the side of opposing pitching, hitting 3-4 in the lineup.  The two will be sorely missed and the loss leaves a huge void offensively in the Pirates lineup.

The Pirates also lose starting centerfielder Jay Mattox and back-up catcher Adam Hodges.  Mattox lead the Pirates in stolen bases with 14 in ’06, and can be a five-tool player with the ability to play at the next level.  Injuries have slowed his career, but given the right opportunity Mattox may have the best shot of any position player in pro-ball.  Hodges was a role-player that came up big in many key late inning situations as a pinch-hitter.  Always a fun guy to be around, Hodges will be missed in the locker room. 

That does it for the seniors, but maybe not the departures.  Several players are “draft eligible” this year.  A player is eligible for the draft after his junior year, or his 21st birthday, whichever comes first.  Headlining the list of eligible players for the Pirates are Shane Matthews, and Dustin Sasser.  Matthews got off to a slow start in ’06 after returning from injury, but had a very solid last half that included a stellar, one-run, near complete-game performance against Tulane in the C-USA tourney.  Sasser also had a good year and as a strong lefty, is a valuable asset to pro scouts.  Likely both rising juniors will be drafted at some point, and will have to make a decision to turn pro or return to the Pirates next year.  Shane closed out the year on a very positive note and will play in the highly touted Cape Cod League this summer.  His performance over the next few months will hugely impact his pro value, and in turn his decision on where to play. 

Next year will yet again hold many changes for the Pirate baseball program.  ECU boasts what appears to be another strong recruiting class, and will rely heavily on some of the new players.  The Pirates are also reportedly looking at several other transfers to bolster the lineup.  ECU will also need to fill the Director of Baseball Operations position vacated by former assistant Ryan Riley.  Riley will return to his hometown in Seattle, Washington to pursue a career outside of baseball. 

Unfortunately the Pirates are not playing in NCAA tournament for the first time in quite a while.  Nobody takes that harder than Pirate head man Billy Godwin.  Coach Godwin took full responsibility for the team’s record this year, and made it clear that this season was not acceptable.  The season turns out to be a one of what could have been.  If you look at some of the close games the Pirates lost, and some in which ECU gave up early leads, the Pirates were knocking on the door of a great season.  With a break here or there, ECU could have been sitting at forty-plus wins.  It wasn’t meant to be this year, but now the Pirates begin the long preparation to get back on the “Road to Omaha” for 2007.

Josh Spence