Diamond Pirates look to continue winning ways as CUSA play begins
East Carolina has won five straight and 10 of its last 11
Last season, East Carolina struggled on the mound.
The Pirates had just a 5.25 ERA and opponents hit .289 against them in their disappointing 32-27 campaign.
What a difference a year can make, as the Diamond Bucs currently boast the country's top era at 1.67 and the opposition is batting a meager .205 against them.
That stellar pitching performance has propelled Billy Godwin's club to a 16-4 start and the brink of the national polls.
However, the Pirates must seek to continue to sharpen their sword, as a new season begins this weekend when they open league play against Memphis at Clark-LeClair Stadium.
While East Carolina has won 10 of its last 11, there haven't been many comfortable wins, as the Pirate offense has been a work in progress. Five of those ten victories have come by a single run and ECU scored five runs or less in each of those close calls.
The offense has demonstrated some improvement, as it scored 12 runs on 21 hits in the final two contests of the Pirates' sweep of Rutgers last weekend. Following slow starts, Zach Wright and John Wooten are approaching the .300 mark, as they are hitting .296 and .295, respectively. Wright has connected on six of the team's ten home runs and leads the club with 15 rbi. Junior Corey Thompson continues to lead the team with his .338 mark. Freshman Ben Fultz, who is hitting .306 and has started ten contests, is the only other player batting over .300 on a team that hits .280.
The weekend rotation may be set for awhile after the recent insertion of junior lefty Kevin Brandt into the mix to solidify the Sunday spot. He joins senior Seth Maness (3-1, 1.98), last year's CUSA Pitcher of the Year, and junior Mike Wright (4-0, 1.80). Brandt, who worked seven shutout innings of two-hit baseball in the Pirates' 6-0 win over Rutgers on Sunday, struck out 12 in his first weekend start of the season. Maness has struck out 36 batters in 36.1 innings while issuing just four walks. Wright has allowed just 23 hits in 30 innings--all of which came in his five starts.
As good as the starting pitching has been, the bullpen has been equally as impressive. Veteran righty Brad Mincey has earned four wins in relief while compiling a miniscule 0.40 era in 22.2 innings. Sophomore lefty Jake Harris has allowed just 5 hits in 7.2 innings of work. Harris, who has been a short reliever and closer, has two saves. Senior Seth Simmons has struggled with command at times (six walks and 3 HBP), but the veteran closer has notched four saves and is yet to surrender a run in 11.1 innings. Opponents have managed just three hits and are batting just .086 against him.
This staff may receive a strong test from a Memphis club that will come in hitting at a .322 clip.
The Tigers (11-8) got off to a 10-4 start, but have dropped four of their last five. Last weekend, Memphis lost two-of-three to struggling Eastern Illinois before falling to nationally-ranked Arkansas on Tuesday and Wednesday. The Razorbacks won 7-2 in Little Rock on Tuesday and 7-3 in Memphis on Wednesday.
Their line-up is led by middle infielder Chad Zurcher. Zurcher, who is second on the team with seven doubles, is hitting a scorching .471. Leadoff man Drew Martinez is hitting .346 and has swiped a team-high 11 bases. Phillip Chapman is batting .358 with a team-best ten doubles. The Tigers, who have hit ten home runs, are led by Jacob Wilson's three round-trippers. Wilson, who is hitting .278, also leads Memphis with 21 rbi.
Memphis' has received mixed results on the mound. The Tigers have a 4.31 era and opponents are hitting .256 against them.
Dan Langfield (2-1, 3.81), the Tigers' Friday starter, has limited the opposition to just a .204 mark. Langfield, who possesses a lively fastball, has struck out 40 in 28.1 innings of work. Ryan Holland (3-2, 3.15) and Clayton Grant (3-1, 4.33) were the other two weekend starters against Eastern Illinois a week ago. Opponents are hitting .293 versus Grant.
Ben Paullus, who has made eight appearances--all in relief, has been the Tigers' top option out of the bullpen. Paullus, who has two saves and a 1.38 era, has allowed just five hits in 13 innings.
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