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NCAA Regional Opponent Preview: East Carolina

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Meet the regional host Pirates... A good team slumping at a bad time

NCAA Football: East Carolina at Connecticut Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Who’s the Pack playing?

Opponent: East Carolina

Mascot: Pirates | School Location: Greenville, NC | Conference: American

2019 Record: 43-16 (20-4*, 1st) | 2018 RPI Rank: 7

2018 Record: 44-18 (14-10**, T-3rd) | 2018 RPI Rank: 15

2017 Record: 32-28 (7-17, 8th) | 2017 RPI Rank: 81

*2019 American Athletic Conference Regular Season Champions

**2018 American Athletic Conference Tournament Champions


When? Where? How do I watch?

Location: Clark-LeClair Stadium (Greenville, NC)

Game Time(s): Sunday, June 2 @ 12:00pm

TV: WatchESPN/ESPN3

Radio: WKNC 88.1 in Raleigh, GoPack All-Access

Live Stats: ECU Sidearm Stats


Tell me about this team

Just as we all expected, the #1 and #2 seeds in the regional will be facing off in the first elimination game of this regional.

I mean, what the f***?!

Anyways, let’s get to this...

This ECU team is a very good one, but one that’s been hit by a few key injuries and is also slumping at the absolute worst time. The Pirates are just 1-4 in their last five games, dropping their regular season finale to Memphis, two games against Wichita State in the AAC Tournament, and then their regional opener against Quinnipiac. The lone win in that span was an elimination game throttling of Houston in the AAC Tourney.

For a team that only lost one regular season series all year (swept at #1 UCLA in mid-April) and only lost back-to-back games on two occasions (the series sweep at UCLA and back-to-back losses to Monmouth and Air Force in February), the recent run of losses is surprising.

Injuries haven’t helped. Losing starting outfielder Lane Hoover (.341/.463/.372, 11-game hitting streak when he broke his collar bone in mid-May - against Campbell, no less) put a hole in the lineup, while losing key relievers Trey Benton (4-0, 4.01 ERA, 1.54 WHIP, .290 OBA, 24.2 IP, 28 K) to Tommy John Surgery and Sam Lanier (1-0, 2 SV, 2.60 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, .212 OBA, 27.2 IP, 30 K) removed a pair of top arms from the bullpen, as well as one of the guys likely to get a regional start.

This Pirates team is one that would make the old Elliott Avent blush. They entered NCAA Regional play as a Top 50 team nationally in batting average, hits, runs, and home runs, while being the #1 team in the country in laying down the sacrifice bunt. Surprisingly, they’re not a small ball purist team, ranking below 200 nationally in stolen bases - they’re going to play for the run, not the big inning; but not at the expense of risking additional outs. It’s strange, but it’s worked... well, aside from the last few games.

On the mound, the team has a pair of top-end starters (Jake Agnos, Jake Kuchmaner), a flex starter/reliever who’s one of he best two-way players in the country (Alec Burleson), and another very good back-end bullpen option (Evan Voliva). The team entered NCAA play ranked nationally in the Top 50 in ERA, WHIP, H/9, BB/9, K/9, and BB:K ratio.

The downside for ECU for Sunday is that they used three of the arms mentioned above (Kuchmaner, Burleson, Voliva) in their Saturday regional opening loss to Quinnipiac. Their availability will be in question, and if they do toe the rubber, their effectiveness will be diminished given the back-to-back days of work.

Cliff Godwin has done an unbelievable job of stockpiling talent at East Carolina since returning to lead his alma mater, but this is a less-than-enviable position for the #10 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament regardless of the roster.


Who’s on the mound for these guys?

Tuesday: LHP Jake Agnos (JR)


Key Players:

Offense

LF Bryant Packard (JR) - .355 BA, .444 OBP, .548 SLG, 197 AB, 18 2B, 1 3B, 6 HR, 51 R, 35 RBI, 27 BB, 37 K, 5-7 SB. Packard is a unanimous 1st Team All-AAC performer this year and was the 2018 AAC Player-of-the-Year. The Pirates’ leadoff hitter is also projected as a 2nd or 3rd round pick in the 2019 MLB Draft. A lefty hitter, the local Greenville product (D.H. Conley HS) is a stand-up kid who has played incredibly well this year considering that he found out during the season that his mom was diagnosed with cancer.

RF/1B/DH/LHP Alec Burleson (SO) - .371 BA, .392 OBP, .585 SLG, 224 AB, 21 2B, 0 3B, 9 HR, 34 R, 55 RBI, 12 BB, 21 K, 3-4 SB. Burleson is a 1st Team (OF) and 2nd Team (UTIL) All-AAC selection this season. He’s a finalist for the John Olerud award for the nation’s top collegiate two-way player. The kid can really hit, with his only weakness being an inability/unwillingness to work many walks, but his high contact/low strikeout rate diminishes that impact on his overall performance.

1B/DH Spencer Brickhouse (JR) - .326 BA, .464 OBP, .603 SLG, 184 AB, 11 2B, 2 3B, 12 HR, 52 R, 51 RBI, 42 BB, 42 K, 2-3 SB. Brickhouse, like Packard, is projected to be a 2nd or 3rd round pick in the MLB Draft this year. He’s a natural hitter who is incredibly good at working pitchers, although he does pull the ball way too much. Like Burleson, was named to both the AAC 1st Team (DH) and 2nd Team (1B) this year.

C Jake Washer (RS-JR) - .301 BA, .393 OBP, .565 SLG, 186 AB, 10 2B, 0 3B, 13 HR, 34 R, 46 RBI, 27 BB, 46 K, 2-3 SB. The 2019 1st Team All-AAC pick has some pop in his bat and is currently riding a six-game hitting streak. Very good at blocking the ball, but not the greatest at throwing out opposing base runners (only 7-of-33 on the year).

DH/1B Thomas Francisco (FR) - .305 BA, .444 OBP, .476 SLG, 105 AB, 4 2B, 1 3B, 4 HR, 12 R, 25 RBI, 19 BB, 21 K, 0-0 SB. Francisco has been in-and-out of the lineup all year, but has been more of a mainstay over the last month, and became a permanent fixture with the injury to Hoover. The lefty hitter has some pop.

SS Turner Brown (SR) - .294 BA, .392 OBP, .407 SLG, 204 AB, 10 2B, 2 3B, 3 HR, 36 R, 29 RBI, 21 BB, 27 K, 11-14 SB. Your quintessential small ball, whatever-it-takes guy. Not the biggest, strongest, or fastest, but is a very good baseball player who has few weaknesses. He’s not going to hit for much power at all, but he handles the bat very well and does all the little things well. Leads the team in stolen bases and is tied for the team lead in HBP.

Pitching

LHP Jake Agnos (JR) - 10-2, 2.00 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, .197 OBA, 34.5 K%, 10.0 BB%, 90.0 IP, 65 H, 23 R, 20 ER, 38 BB, 131 K. 2019 AAC Pitch-of-the-Year. Was only under a 1.00 K/IP ratio in one of his 15 starts, while hitting double-digit K’s five times. His one weakness is issuing walks, although he knows pretty well when he can risk them and when to avoid them.

LHP Alec Burleson (SO) - 5-1, 5 SV, 2.87 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, .232 OBA, 25.4 K%, 9.2 BB%, 53.1 IP, 46 H, 17 R, 17 ER, 21 BB, 58 K. Burleson throws a low-90’s fastball with deceptive movement. A fiery competitor on the mound and a likely weekend rotation starter next year, he’s a flex piece for the staff this year due to his ability to be equally effective as a starter and reliever. It’ll be interesting to see if how MLB teams project him at the next level - hitter/fielder or pitcher.

RHP Evan Voliva (RS-SR) - 5-4, 4 SV, 3.51 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, .193 OBA, 32.6 K%, 10.0 BB%, 33.1 IP, 23 H, 13 R, 13 ER, 14 BB, 46 K. Had a seven-game scoreless appearance streak going before allowing a pair of runs to Quinnipiac on Saturday in getting hit with the loss. He missed almost all of 2017 and 2018 due to Tommy John Surgery, but has come back stronger than ever this year.

RHP Gavin Williams (SO) - 1-4, 1 SV, 4.17 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, .213 OBA, 27.7 K%, 11.0 BB%, 45.1 IP, 34 H, 23 R, 21 ER, 21 BB, 53 K. Williams is a fireballer with a fastball that has hit 100 mph in the past, although he usually sits down in the 94-95 mph range. With that velocity coming from his 6’6 frame, he can tally up K’s in a hurry. Has shown a lot of development from last year, but is still fairly raw.

RHP Sam Lanier (SR) - 1-0, 2 SV, 2.60 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, .212 OBA, 26.5 K%, 8.0 BB%, 27.2 IP, 21 H, 8 R, 8 ER, 9 BB, 30 K. Lanier has been out for almost a month now, but there’s hope that he can return to provide some innings in the regional.

RHP Ryder Giles (FR) - 0-0, 1 SV, 2.61 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, .205 OBA, 18.8 K%, 5.9 BB%, 20.2 IP, 16 H, 9 R, 6 ER, 5 BB, 16 K. Giles has been a very good two-way player as a true freshman for ECU. Hasn’t allowed an earned run in 15 of his 17 appearances.


Quick! Fun Facts!

It’s late, y’all. Sorry.


Prediction

The winner of this game goes on to win the regional.

Unless Campbell rolls the dice against Quinnipiac and tries to save Seth Johnson for a potential “championship game”, they’ll be down to their #3 starter, FR RHP Ryan Chasse, in a game against State or ECU. Chasse has been no slouch this year, but this is a big stage for a freshman arm. Either way - against Chasse or Johnson - once Campbell gets past their top three starters (and assuming they get past Quinnipiac tomorrow to stay in the winners bracket), things get seriously dicey for the Camels.

Whoever wins this game will ride the momentum of knocking out their rivals to string together the wins necessary to move on to a Super Regional appearance.

Outcome: ECU has the edge in this one, playing at home and throwing their ace, a guy projected to go in the top three rounds of this week’s MLB Draft, but they used four of their top available bullpen guys in Saturday’s loss. State’s pitching staff, on the other hand, didn’t have to throw a pitch on Saturday.

This one’s a toss-up.