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Observations and Punditry

Woody's Ramblings
Tuesday, May 23, 2006

By Woody Peele

Season short-circuited by a failure to close


Barring some miracle, East Carolina’s baseball team will end the 2006 season this week in the Conference USA tournament.

With the Pirates’ record of 32-24, about the only way ECU could make the field would be to win the title, earning the automatic berth.

When the season opened, the Pirates, picked to finish fifth in pre-season balloting by the C-USA coaches, were more optimistic. They had healthy pitchers — pitchers who missed the 2005 season with injuries — ready to do the job. In fact, that was one of the strong spots. The Pirates had lost some of the heavy bats from the year before and weren’t expected to be the power hitters this time around.

Early on, against non-conference foes, that seemed to be the true picture of the team. The first loss of the year, a 1-0 decision against Maryland in game two, the Pirates had runners at the corners with one out in the 8th inning but failed to push any across.

The next loss, however, an 11-8 decision at College of Charleston, may have foretold how the year would wind down. Leading 8-6, the Pirate staff gave up five runs with two down in the bottom of the ninth.

It was a pattern to be repeated again and again.

As the season reached the halfway point, the Pirates were 17-9 and visited N.C. State. East Carolina built up a 4-0 lead over the Wolfpack after five innings, only to see the Pack rally to tie it after eight at 4-all. Then, NCSU pushed over the game-winner in the bottom of the inning.

That was followed by the first C-USA game, against Houston. Trailing 4-3, the Pirates loaded the bases in the bottom of the inning, only to fail to get the hit they needed.

During the first part of the season, ECU went 17-11, but lost only four games the Pirates seemed to have control of late in the game.

The second half of the season, however, was a different story, as the Pirates went 15-13. Ironically, the Pirates faced conference foes that were, for the most part, either lower or tied with ECU in the standings when they faced each other.

In the final analysis, ECU went 7-2 against the three teams which finished below them in the standings, 2-10 against those who finished higher.

In the stretch run, six of the 15 wins and two of the losses came against non-conference foes.

It started with a 4-3 loss at N.C. State, a game in which the Pirates built a 3-0 lead only to see the Pack tie the game on a passed ball in the 9th and win in the 10th inning on a wild pitch.

A 5-3 loss to Marshall came after the game was tied in the fifth. A 9-5 loss to Tulane saw the Pirates blow a 5-4 lead in the ninth.

East Carolina led Southern Miss 10-8 in the 9th inning, but saw the Golden Eagles tie it up, then win 11-10 on another wild pitch in the 11th. A second loss to the Eagles, 8-5, came after ECU led 5-0.

All three losses to Memphis in the final series of the year were further heart-breakers. The first game saw the Pirate pitching staff give up a grand slam in the 9th when the Pirates blew a 6-5 lead to lose 9-6. In the second game, ECU closed to 7-6 in the 6th inning, only to give up three runs in the seventh and four more in the eighth in a 14-6 defeat.

The last game, an 11-10 loss to the Tigers, came after the Pirates built an advantage, 7-2, only to lose the lead again.

The 32-24 (.571) record is the worst regular season mark since Keith LeClair’s first year in 1998 (.508). The conference record of 10-14 (.417) hasn’t been seen since 1995, when the Pirates went 5-13 (.286) in the Colonial Athletic Association.

Basically, it comes down to the fact that the ECU pitchers were not able to hold a lead, or keep the offense close.

The Pirates lose four position players, outfielder Jay Mattox, first baseman Adam Witter and catchers Jake Smith and Adam Hodges, and all will be missed. But with the rest of the position players back, the Pirates have a chance to improve in that focus of the game.

Pitching, however, will be hard hit. Gone will be conference starter Brody Taylor as well as Scott Andrews, Carter Harrell and Kevin Rhodes, all of whom saw starting duties during the season. T.J. Hose and Shane Matthews are back, giving the Pirates a good base for league starters.

But reinforcements must develop or arrive if the Pirates are to make another run at a regional berth in 2007.

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02/23/2007 02:44:26 PM

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