Ryder Giles

Sophomore Ryder Giles takes a swing from home plate.

With the East Carolina University’s baseball team’s 2021 season about to begin, the team has not played a real game since March 11, 2020, when the 2020 season was cut short due to the pandemic.

The Pirates’ first game of the season is scheduled to be played on Feb. 19 against Rhode Island. The game will be the first of a three-game series played at Lewis Field at Clark LeClair Stadium. First pitch is scheduled for 4 p.m.

Expectations are one of the most prevalent things in sports. On every level of athletics from little league baseball to the MLB, players have expectations put on them be it fair or not. This applies to entire teams as well.

Every year in every sport certain teams are expected to be contenders or bottom feeders or anywhere inbetween, and every year there are teams that live up to those expectations and those that disappoint. These expectations are thrust upon teams in the three biggest sports in America more so than any other. Football, basketball and baseball teams, be it professional or collegiate, are thrust under the microscope of scrutiny more so than any other.

This applies to the East Carolina University baseball team, as it enters the season with very high expectations from fans and analysts.

The 2021 team is significantly younger than its 2020 counterpart. The 2020 team was made up of 11 freshmen, seven sophomores, 14 juniors and four seniors. This made it a balanced group with a fair amount of veteran leadership. The 2021 team, however, is overwhelmingly made up of underclassmen, with 22 freshmen, six sophomores, nine juniors and three seniors.

Over the past few years the Pirates have seen many players leave for the MLB. In the 2019 and 2020 drafts, eight Pirates were selected by professional teams, including Jake Agnos, Spencer Brickhouse and Bryant Packard in 2019 and Alec Burleson in 2020.

Despite being a very young team and having lost several key pieces the past few years, the Pirates are still favorites to win the American Athletic Conference (AAC) title this season according to NCAA preseason projections. The Pirates are the only AAC team to come into the 2021 season with a national ranking. According to the NCAA standings, ECU is ranked No. 25 in the country.

While the Pirates are expected to win the AAC title, according to NCAA preseason projections, teams such as the University of Tulane, the University of Central Florida, the University of Houston and Wichita State University are all expected to make strong pushes as well.

ECU does not have a currently ranked opponent scheduled for this season and will play most of their non-conference games at home. ECU will host Old Dominion University, the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Charlotte, Illinois State University, St. John’s University, the University of Rhode Island, Duke University, Appalachian State University and UNC at Chapel Hill at home this season.

For non-conference away games, the Pirates are scheduled to play Georgia Southern University, Duke, UNC at Wilmington and UNC Chapel Hill.

In large part due COVID-19 travel restrictions, the Pirates will not have to travel a lot this season for non-conference games. UNC Charlotte, Duke, UNC, UNCW, and Appalachian State are all in North Carolina, while Old Dominion is in Virginia.

One of the Pirates’ strengths this season is the starting pitcher rotation. ECU’s projected starters in its pitching rotation are junior right-handed pitcher Gavin Williams, senior right-handed pitcher Tyler Smith and junior left-handed pitcher Jake Kuchmaner.

Kuchmaner had the most wins and the most starts of any ECU pitcher in the shortened 2020 season as he finished 4-0. Over the 15 innings he pitched he surrendered 12 hits, one run and threw 13 strikeouts. His earned run average was just .60, a team low for pitchers who pitched more than one game, according to ECUPirates.

Smith was second on the team in strikeouts with 19. He finished with a record of 2-1 and gave up nine hits which led to four earned runs, the fourth most of any pitcher on the Pirate’s 2020 roster, which equated to a 1.96 ERA, according to ECUPirates.

Williams has not lived up to expectations during his career as a Pirate mainly due to injuries. Williams was drafted in the 30th round of the 2017 MLB draft but elected to come to ECU instead. He did get to pitch a total of three innings last season, had two strikeouts and gave up two hits but didn’t give up any runs, according to ECUPirates.

The Pirates will also return some of their best batters from their 2020 campaign. According to ECUPirates, sophomore infielder Connor Norby was first on team in batting average of players with at least 30 at bats in 2020 with a .403. In his 62 at-bats he finished with 25 hits, one double, one triple, one homerun and 10 runs batted in. His 25 hits were also a team high.

Sophomore outfielder Lane Hoover was second on the team in hits with 24. Hoover had 68 at bats and in his 24 hits had two doubles, one triple, one homerun and 12 RBIs. His batting average was No. 6 on the team at .353.

The Pirates will return junior outfielder Bryson Worrell. Worrell led the Pirates in home runs with five while also batting a .373 on 59 at bats. He finished with 22 hits, 13 runs and a team high of six doubles. He walked a team high 10 times, according to ECUPirates.

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