East Carolina may not be very good at basketball, and the football team may be rebuilding, but the Pirates do know how to play baseball. They have made it to the NCAA Tournament in each of the last two seasons and are poised to make it three-straight in 2017. Cincinnati managed to keep up with the Pirates, going 1-1-1 against the them in the only three meetings between the two teams last spring.
The Pirates came out of the gates on fire, winning their first five games, including a series win against then No. 4 Virginia. The rest of the non-conference schedule featured more mediocre results, as ECU went 18-15 in non-league play after those first five games.
However, they kicked things up a notch once American Athletic Conference action got going, including a series win against then No. 15 Houston to get started. By the end of the regular season, the Pirates were second in the AAC behind Tulane and entered the AAC tourney in great position.
That great position didn’t yield much for the Pirates, who lost to USF and Memphis in successive days, making an early exit from the AAC tourney.
That didn’t erase them from NCAA Tournament contention, and the Pirates were put into the Charlottesville Regional. They beat Bryant, Virginia and William & Mary to reach the Lubbock Super Regional against Texas Tech. They even flirted with moving on even further, topping Texas Tech 8-6 in the first game before falling in the next two.
ECU did a lot to improve the standing of the AAC and its own program with such success in the postseason. The Pirates will once again be a team with lofty aspirations in 2017.
Players to Watch
Dwanya Williams-Sutton, OF
Talk about having a great freshman year. Williams-Sutton took the AAC by storm and earned three Freshman All-American selections as well as first-team All-AAC honors. That’s what happens when you slash .360/.455/.551 and lead the conference in batting average and on-base percentage. He crushed five home runs and had 20 extra bases hits total. He also stole seven bases and scored 31 runs. He was OK in the field (.946 fielding percentage), but as he develops, he should improve there. That makes him a lock for the AAC Position Player of the Year conversation.
Travis Watkins, C
The second-best catcher in the conference according to all-league selections in 2016, Watkins was a potent power bat from behind the dish. He led the Pirates in home runs (seven), extra base hits (21), RBI (44), total bases (111) while batting .326. He also managed to steal three bases and was relatively solid behind the plate, ranking third in the conference in runners caught stealing (20).
Eric Tyler, 3B
Entering his senior year, Tyler should once again be another impressive contributor in the lineup. The third baseman was the second half of the Pirates’ version of the Smash Brothers, as he hit five home runs and drove in 36. He also joined Watkins as one of only two players on the team to have more than 100 total bases. If there is a knock, and its a big one, its his struggles in the field, as he committed 11 errors, second on the team.
Evan Kruczynski, SP
Every team has its ace and Kruczynski is one of the best ones around. He ranked second in the league in innings pitched (116 2/3) and posted an ERA of 2.01 across that large body of work. He had an 8-1 record, for whatever that’s worth, and struck out 95 batters while walking 27.
Jacob Wolfe, SP
Wolfe gets a promotion this season, moving to the No. 2 starter role after Jimmy Boyd (7-5, 2.83 ERA) left. Wolfe could be a No. 1 on many other teams, but ECU gets to trot him out after Kruczynski. Wolfe went 6-4 with a 2.95 ERA and struck out 57 batters in 88 1⁄3 innings last season.
With one of the best, if not the best one-two starting punches in the conference, East Carolina should be good at run prevention once again, after ranking third in the conference in team ERA last season (3.53). What can push the Pirates over the top is their offense, which was stellar last year, leading the AAC in batting average (.289). They return three players that hit .300 last season, plus Kirk Morgan, who just barely missed (.299). Year three of the Cliff Godwin era will be another good one.