Just one season ago the East Carolina baseball team hit its way to a National Super Regional appearance and was ranked in the top 10 at the start of this season, but now the Pirates currently sit at 18-12 after losing four straight games as well as a ranked position.
Although that might make ECU fans nervous, there is still hope. There are plenty of signs that the same Pirates, who left 12 batters on base Tuesday night in a 3-2 extra-inning loss to North Carolina, can turn it around and go on another 10 game win streak.
“I’m not hitting the panic button because I know the talent that we have on our team and I know the leadership we have on our team,” head coach Cliff Godwin said. “We’re going to be just fine.”
“Just fine” is an understatement considering the team that made it all the way to the Super Regional last year was only 2.5 games better than this year’s team. The 2015-16 Pirates were 20-9 on April 6, coming off an extra inning win at Elon. Sounds like what could have happened if ECU capitalized on its extra-inning opportunities on Tuesday.
The loss to UNC isn’t the first time the Pirates have had struggles capitalizing on driving runners in recently. Despite batting .298 as a team with runners in scoring position, ECU has only hit .144 in the same situation over the last four games while averaging just 1.75 runs.
“As long as we keep battling we’ll get that game where it’s 10 to nothing in our way,” ECU shortstop Turner Brown said. “We just got to keep to the process and keep going.”
However, some bad hitting can be overcome with strong pitching. Something the Pirates have received from underclassmen starters, like Trey Benton and Chris Holba, but not returning bullpen arms, like Joe Ingle and Matt Bridges, who ECU looked to rely on in the beginning of the season.
After being named to the Stopper-of-the-Year watch list, Ingle has pitched to an even 5.00 ERA over his 18 innings of work. With only two saves, the Pirates’ stellar closer has allowed 10 earned runs while walking 15 batters. This season hasn’t been easy for returners like Bridges (4.88 ERA over 24 innings) or Sam Lanier (5.64 ERA over 22.1 innings) either.
“Just didn’t make a few pitches here and there,” Ingle said after surrendering the final run to UNC. “Can’t walk people, that’s the main thing about it. We can’t walk people.”
But like Godwin said, it doesn’t appear to be time to ring the alarm because this team can explode for 27 runs in a weekend, just ask Charleston. The Pirates’ record may not look like they expected it to this far into the season, but being swept three times hasn’t helped that record.
What is helping that record is the play of underclassmen like Benton and Holba, who can be found pitching on Friday and Saturday night, as well as Spencer Brickhouse, who leads the Pirates in home runs in just his first season.
After ECU returns key players like Evan Kruczynski and Dwanya Williams-Sutton and pair them with its surging youngsters, ECU fans will get a glimpse at just how good the Pirates can be when healthy.
So, with upcoming series at Houston and then hosting Central Florida, the two best teams in the American Athletic Conference, it is time for East Carolina to get back to playing its best baseball before the postseason gets too far out of reach.