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Opponent Preview: East Carolina

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Meet the Pirates... A team trying to work it out before AAC play

NCAA BASEBALL: JUN 02 Div 1 Championship Greenville Regional - East Carolina v North Carolina State Photo by Greg Thompson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Who’s the Pack playing?

Opponent: East Carolina

Mascot: Seafaring Plunderers | School Location: Martinsborough, NC | Conference: AAC

2022 Record: 14-11 (0-0, T-1st) | 2022 RPI Rank: 66

2021 Record: 44-17 (20-8, 1st) | 2021 RPI Rank: 13

2020 Record: 13-4 (0-0, T-1st) | 2020 RPI Rank: 5


When? Where? How do I watch?

Location: Clark-LeClair Stadium (Greenville, NC)

Game Time: Tues, Mar 29 @ 4:30pm

TV: ESPN+ (Tuesday)

Radio: GoPack.com (Tuesday)

Live Stats: Stat Broadcast


Tell me about this team

This is Cliff Godwin’s seventh full season at the helm of the Pirates program and he’s already captured four conference championships (two regular season, two tournament) and advanced his teams to three Super Regional appearances (2016, 2019, 2021). The only thing eluding Godwin and the Pirates at this point is an appearance at the College World Series.

The gripes against Godwin are the same that many an NC State fan long had against Elliott Avent: an undue love of the sacrifice bunt and an overuse of favorite bullpen arms. While the ladder of those two may still hold true for Avent, the Wolfpack skipper has significantly changed his ways in regards to laying down the bunt to play for a single run. The Pirates coach, though? A full on embracement of it. ECU is currently 4th in the country in sac bunts after finishing 10th nationally in 2021 and leading the nation in 2019. While it’s certainly helped push runs across, it has also undoubtedly cost the Pirates some big innings that may have resulted in an additional win or two along the way.

Again, though, look at what Godwin has done at ECU and it’s really hard to question him.

The comparison in coaching styles isn’t the only similarity in this matchup. Both NC State and East Carolina have underwhelmed this year - at least before seemingly righting the respective ships of late. Each team entered the year with high expectations and high preseason rankings only to suffer setbacks that have tempered those expectations. For the Pirates, it was a season-opening series sweep at the hands of a Bryant team that has since struggled, and then a mid-March slump where they lost four-of-five, although three of those losses came on the road against Old Dominion and College of Charleston squads that are a combined 33-13.

The biggest setback for ECU this year hasn’t actually been on the field, but rather the player who won’t get an opportunity to step between the lines this season. LHP Carson Whisenhunt, a projected first round pick in this year’s MLB Draft and a teammate of Sam Highfill and Chris Villaman on the USA Collegiate National Team last summer, was suspended by the NCAA for all of the 2022 season just before the season was to get underway. Losing the staff ace is a tough enough blow, but especially so when the weekend rotation wasn’t set behind him. LHP Jake Kuchmaner has stepped up considerably, but the Pirates path towards another AAC title in 2022 will rely on the team finding another pair of reliable starters to go along with him.

The lineup, meanwhile, has also lacked the punch of past Pirate teams. There are certainly those players who are performing very well, but two players who were expected to be heavy contributors in pushing runs across the plate this year (1B Josh Moylan and SS Ryder Giles) have struggled at the dish. If you’re an ECU fan, though, you can actually point to those two players as reason for optimism that the lineup will boom over the remainder of the year. The BABIP for both players is below .160 which is a comically unlucky level. For comparison, NC State catcher Jacob Cozart had a similarly poor BABIP over his first ten games of the season and hit just .133 during that stretch. With Cozart’s BABIP over the last ten games being at a normal level, his season batting average has jumped to .212, so there’s hope for a rebound for some of ECU’s struggling hitters.

Rotation questions and lineup concerns considered, this is still a talented group of well-coached players who are still the favorites to add some AAC hardware to the growing collection in the baseball offices of Clark-LeClair Stadium.


Who’s on the mound for these guys?

Wednesday: LHP C.J. Mayhue (SO)


Key Players:

Offense

LF Lane Hoover (JR) - .348/.437/.404, 5 2B, 0 3B, 0 HR, 21 R, 13 RBI, 13 BB, 8 K, 1 HBP, 6-10 SB. Undersized do-it-all team player who is a fan favorite. Lefty hitter has great contact skills and a solid eye at the plate.

3B/SS Zach Agnos (SO) - .292/.373/.371, 4 2B, 0 3B, 1 HR, 15 R, 14 RBI, 10 BB, 23 K, 2 HBP, 2-2 SB. A starter at 3B for 2020 and 2021, Agnos has recently moved to SS due to Ryder Giles struggles with the bat and Giles’ move to the starting rotation. Agnos, who also dabbles a bit on the mound, is a solid hitter with a patient approach at the plate.

RF/DH Jacob Jenkins-Cowart (FR) - .316/.341/.474, 3 2B, 0 3B, 3 HR, 12 R, 15 RBI, 5 BB, 17 K, 0 HBP, 1-2 SB. Big 6’6, 216 lbs lefty hitter is having himself quite a freshman campaign. Has cooled off a bit of late, but is a dangerous bat.

3B/OF Alec Makarewicz (SR) - .278/.318/.443, 4 2B, 0 3B, 4 HR, 19 R, 18 RBI, 5 BB, 28 K, 2 HBP, 1-2 SB. There were a lot of high expectations placed on Makarewicz coming into the year and maybe that’s worn on him. Another lefty with a nice swing, he’s better than the numbers indicate, especially that BB:K ratio.

CF Bryson Worrell (SR) - .255/.304/.406, 5 2B, 1 3B, 3 HR, 18 R, 10 RBI, 7 BB, 18 K, 1 HBP, 3-3 SB. As talented as guy as you’ll find on the roster. Has great tools on a scout’s dream of a build, but just can’t seem to put it all together. Did go 4-for-9 over his last two games, though.

Pitching

LHP C.J. Mayhue (SO) - 2-0, 1 SV, 3.63 ERA, 17.1 IP, 15 H, 8 BB, 20 K. The top bullpen arm for the Pirates having already appeared in over half of the team’s games, this will be the first start of his career (42 games). Has gone 3.0+ innings three times this year, so he’s not foreign to multiple inning appearances, but he also threw an inning on Sunday, so he’ll likely be limited to something around 40 pitches. A 36th round pick of the Mariners out of high school in 2019, he has a bit of a funky delivery that adds some deception. Not necessarily overpowering, he mixes pitches well and his slider can be dirty when it’s on.

RHP Carter Spivey (JR) - 1-0, 2 SV, 3.00 ERA, 24.0 IP, 25 H, 2 BB, 33 K. You could probably list Spivey as a co-closer with Mayhue, but the coaching staff really uses more of a “stopper” approach, so both will come in when needed rather than for a pure save situation. Was a lower-end bullpen arm until really showing out this year. His control has been impeccable.

RHP Garrett Saylor (SO) - 2-3, 1 SV, 4.25 ERA, 29.2 IP, 21 H, 9 BB, 42 K. Started the year in the weekend rotation but transitioned to the bullpen after two outings and has been great since. Has only allowed a run in three of 11 relief appearances. He’s a low-90’s guy with a couple of great off-speed offerings.


Quick! Fun Facts!

NC State holds the advantage in the all-time series between the two schools, 68-48.

East Carolina had four players at the MLB level in 2021 (RHP Jeff Hoffman, CIN; RHP Jharel Cotton, TEX; RHP Shawn Armstrong, BAL/TB; RHP Mike Wright, CWS).

The 2016 MLB Draft was the only one since 1997 in which ECU did not have a player drafted. The Pirates have had five players drafted in the top five rounds over the last three drafts, including 1st rounder RHP Gavin Williams (CLE) last year.

The Wolfpack and Pirates have played two common opponents so far this year. ECU topped Campbell 10-3 while State fell to the Camels, 4-7. Both teams secured one-run victories in midweek contests over Elon; NC State by a score of 2-1 and ECU by a score of 7-6.

As you’d expect, there are a few former high school teammates who will be in opposing dugouts in this one. Holly Springs HS (Matt Willadsen; Jaden Winter), Pro5 Academy (Payton Green; Ayden Edwards and Jaden Winter).


Prediction

This is a rivalry game - and really should be a weekend series split between Raleigh, Greenville, and Zebulon, but I digress - so it’s always hard to really get a feel on how it’s going to go. Even though NC State hasn’t announced a starting pitcher, the Wolfpack have more proven starting arms to go to at this point. ECU will counter with one of their best arms, but one who has never started a game and is likely to not go deep. Let’s call it a toss up there.

State’s bats have been better, but ECU has the significantly better defense.

Outcome: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯