No less an authority than John Manuel
Baseball America figures
that East Carolina's absence from the NCAA Tournament will end after one
Pirates coach Billy
Godwin has been pleased with his club's performance, especially when
unforeseen circumstances which ECU has dealt with this season are
"East Carolina is the only team from
Conference USA, other than Rice, that can feel like they're in," Manuel
said during a break between issues from the authoritative Durham-based
publication. "They've got the No. 21 RPI according to what was released
(Wednesday). To me, they're in and they're a No. 2 seed."
ECI is 35-18 overall and currently
holds second place in C-USA with a 13-7 league record going into the
final regular season series in Birmingham this weekend.
"I'd say they even have an outside shot
to host a regional if they want to submit a ridiculous bid, throw in a
couple of wins over Rice on their way to winning the Conference USA
tournament and sweep at UAB this weekend, which isn't easily done,"
Manuel said. "Brian Shoop (Blazers coach) does a great job.
"In the best case scenario, who's to
say East Carolina can't earn a No. 1 seed and be a regional host.? If
they could beat Rice, which has the No. 1 RPI, a couple of times — I
think that could propel them to a No. 1 seed."
The Owls swept ECU in Greenville in a
3-game series April 6-8. The Pirates came progressively closer, losing
4-0, 9-6 and 8-6 to Rice during the course of the weekend.
"More realistic, I think they're a two
seed and they're probably going to Chapel Hill," Manuel said.
The bad news about that projection is
that the Pirates have not fared well against the Tar Heels this season.
North Carolina won 10-0 at home in Chapel Hill on April 24 and 5-1 in
Greenville on May 9.
"North Carolina beat Georgia Tech last
weekend, which was pretty good for UNC," Manuel continued. "In the RPI,
they're eight positions ahead of UVa, although they're virtually tied in
the ACC standings."
The Tar Heels are 18-9 in the ACC and
Virginia is a half-game behind in the Coastal Division with a 17-9
"Carolina goes to Maryland this
weekend," Manuel noted. "Assuming North Carolina wins that series, I
think they're a No. 1 seed for a regional and probably a top eight
national seed. It looks likely ECU would play there (in Chapel Hill).
"ECU came back after losing the series
to Southern Miss and they swept Houston. That kind of got them where
they are. Southern Miss is playing Houston this week. You figure the
winner is in (the NCAA Tournament) and that the loser is on the bubble.
"The league (C-USA) is kind of down.
Houston and Memphis lose to Marshall. That indicates the league is kind
Conference USA may be down but ECU is
up, especially compared to the Pirates' performance in Godwin's first
season in 2006. The team was 33-26 overall last season, including a
dismal 4-15 on the road, and 10-14 in the conference (sixth).
East Carolina is a much more
respectable 7-7 on the road this season.
"I feel good about our postseason
chances," Godwin said. "We have some meat on our bone and we need to
play well here at the end, which I think this crowd will do.
"I feel really good about the NCAA
Tournament. At the beginning of the year, with the schedule we've played
— and a couple of things that have happened like Jeff Ostrander, who was
our second starter, pitching only 17 innings, and we lose one of our top
outfielders, Trent Ashcraft — that we would be where we are, I believe I
would have jumped all over that."
Hosting the C-USA Tournament next week
is a situation that should be advantageous for ECU, which is 28-11 this
season at Clark-LeClair Stadium.
"Very few teams in our league have a
winning record on the road," said the ECU coach. "Somebody asked me
about home field advantage. That right there kind of says enough in
"Anytime you can have an event like a
conference tournament or a regional at home, it's always a tremendous
advantage because the kids get to sleep in their own beds. They don't
break their rhythm, their routine. Then you have the advantage of having
your fans. At East Carolina, that's a huge advantage for us.
"It's like the LeClair Classic but you
have twice as many teams so you just double that. Not only did we have
great games, but the other games were great games. It's going to be an
opportunity for our fans to be exposed to some great baseball for four
or five days."
In the only previous C-USA Tournament
hosted by ECU in 2002 at Grainger Stadium in Kinston, the Pirates went
4-0 to the title after finishing sixth in the league's regular season
standings. That was with the motivation of stricken coach Keith LeClair
watching from a van parked down the right field line.
Like Manuel, Godwin isn't ruling out
the possibility that the Pirates could host an NCAA regional.
"I think there's still that chance,"
Godwin said recently. "There's still baseball left to be played.
Absolutely. A lot of it depends on how our season ends up finishing and
what happens to the other teams. I wouldn't totally rule it out if we
weren't a one seed. You've seen that at times when a team gets a one
seed and doesn't have the facility to host.
"Then they'll turn to the best option
in that region or area."
The Pirates themselves were in that
situation in 1999 when they played in a regional hosted by LSU with ECU
on the road as a No. 1 seed.
Despite some personnel adversities, the
Pirates have adapted well this season.
"If you're looking at our pitching,
Josh Dowdy has certainly stepped in on the weekend and done a great
job," Godwin said. "He hasn't had a lot of decisions. He's stepped into
that Sunday role when we moved Dustin (Sasser) to Saturday. He's given
us the opportunity to compete in every game. He's leading our starters
in earned run average (2.81).
"Jeff Ostrander is getting stronger and
stronger and we feel like he'll be full force by the time the conference
tournament gets here.
"Ryan Tousleyhas had a good year for
us. He's leading the team in home runs (10). Harrison Eldridge (.297, 5
HR's) has had a good year."
Godwin is hopeful that shortstop Dale
Mollenhauer (.329) will progress in his rehabilitation to the point that
he will be able to play in the conference tournament.
ECU has never lost a C-USA
Tournament game as the host.
"We want to keep that trend going,"
Godwin said. "I don't know all the history but Rice has hosted and won
it. Typically the teams that host regionals and super regionals are the
teams that get to Omaha, so that tells you what home field advantage
means in the postseason."