Bizarre Ending
by Josh Spence

It was a tough way to see the season and several college careers come to an end.  East Carolina faced UNLV in what turned out to be their final game of the 2005 season.  An elimination game in the “losers” bracket of the NCAA Regionals. The Pirates played good enough to win on Friday, but fell short against host team Arizona State.  Ricky Brooks drew the start for the Pirates on Saturday, and pitched the game of his life.  Unfortunately it will likely be his last in a Pirate uniform.

It is hard to believe, but a guy that was one ninth inning hit away from two no-hitters this season, had an even more impressive outing this past Saturday.  The elimination game versus UNLV put the Pirates with their back to the wall and the season on the line.  UNLV was touted as a heavy hitting club, averaging better than eight runs per game.  With ECU’s strong offense, the game was slated as a slugfest.  That couldn’t have been farther from reality, until the late innings.  East Carolina struggled early offensively, totaling one hit though the first six innings.  However, the Pirates turned it on in the seventh as Mark Minicozzi led off the inning with the solo home run.  Adam Witter tripled in the next at bat, and was brought home on a Drew Coztanzo single.  The Pirates then added another run in the eighth, taking a 3-0 lead, which at the time seemed insurmountable. 

Meanwhile Pirate Pitcher Ricky Brooks had put the game on cruise control, allowing only four hits and no runs through eight.  Ricky had been through it all that day.  In the early innings the Pirate hurler struggled to find the strike zone and found himself in trouble early and often.  The Rebels loaded the bases in the first inning, but Ricky pitched out of it.  Brooks didn’t allow a single hit but UNLV filled the bases again in the fourth, this time with no outs, but again Ricky pitched out of it.  Everything was coming up purple and gold, when ECU carried the 3-0 lead into the top of the ninth, and then it happened.  Coach Mazey was reluctant to allow Brooks to go back out for the ninth, but Ricky struck out the first batter of the frame, and the Pirates were two outs away.  The chain of events that happened next would spell the end of the Pirates season.

Brooks gave up a double to the next batter in the 9th.  Then, in a move he says he would do 100 more times, Coach Mazey made the call for a new pitcher to close it out.  After all Brooks had topped 140 pitches, a number unheard of for a college pitcher.  The Pirates then brought in three more pitchers in the ninth, but the Rebel bats had been awakened.  With Pirate pitchers unable to close it out, a five run ninth inning for UNLV moved them into the next round, and sent the Pirates home wandering, what if.  What if Kevin Rhodes hadn’t been hit in the face with an errant ball during warm-ups?  Could he have gotten it done? What if TJ Hose hadn’t had to lead the team in innings pitched as a freshman, and would have been available this season as a closer?

It was a nearly appropriate ending to a season of what-ifs.  All in all, you have to be impressed with the team, and the coaching staff.  Unlike the talent-laden squad from a year ago, this youthful Pirate squad and the coaches, had to give it all in every victory; a trend that has taken its toll.  Not only will the Pirates lose five seniors, there will be other changes as well.  Assistant Coach Allen Osborne is on his way back to Georgia.  According to team sources, eight year assistant coach Tommy Eason is on his way out as well.  And of course the dreaded MLB draft.  Like the 2004 squad, several players could be on their way to the big leagues.  I would say Ricky Brooks is gone.  It all depends on if his draft number is high enough, and the price is right. (Which go hand in hand).  I wish it wouldn’t happen, but that is selfish, because Ricky deserves everything he gets.  Just from what I saw after the game, I would say that Junior third baseman, Mark Minicozzi is gone as well.  Other names could come up, but my guess is that those are the only two that will take the chance to play pro, over another year at ECU. 

Next year will have an entirely different feel for the Pirates, maybe more like 2004.  After all, ECU will have several pitchers back from that 2004 team that missed this year due to injury.  Add to that a new crop of young talent, and coaches, and some current young players with big-game experience, and the future looks bright for Pirate baseball.    Congratulations and good luck to the Pirate seniors, and those departing early, including the coaches.  Next year is sure to be a good one, until then Go Pirates!

Josh Spence