Who’s the Pack playing?
Opponent: East Carolina
Mascot: Haters of Authority | School Location: The Emerald City, NC | Conference: American
2023 Record: 20-8 (1-2, T-5th) | 2023 RPI Rank: 30
2022 Record: 46-21 (20-4, 1st*) | 2022 RPI Rank: 18
2021 Record: 44-17 (20-8, 1st) | 2021 RPI Rank: 15
*2022 AAC Tournament Champions
When? Where? How do I watch?
Location: Clark-LeClair Stadium (Greenville, NC)
Game Time(s): Tues, Apr 4 @ 5:30pm
TV: Tuesday (ESPNU)
Radio: The Varsity Network (Tuesday)
Live Stats: Stat Broadcast
Tell me about this team
It’s hard to get a real feel for what the 2023 East Carolina baseball team is. The weekend rotation has been phenomenal with Trey Yesavage, Josh Grosz, and Carter Spivey leading the way. There are plenty of high quality relief arms, too. The lineup is experienced (7 upperclassmen) and productive. The team lost their two best hitters from last year (Bryson Worrell, Zach Agnos) and yet somehow still managed to get better (.284/.366/.446 in 2022 with 10.0 BB% and 18.7 K%; .290/.394/.456 in 2023 with 11.7 BB% and 17.8 K%).
So the starting rotation is great, the bullpen is talented, and the lineup is productive... but then there are these two glaring issues:
- 4-5 record in road games
- 3-5 record in midweek games
The midweek slate has been decently challenging (Campbell x2, UNCW x2, Duke), but going 0-fer in those games is a major issue. The American Athletic Conference isn’t particularly good in baseball this year, with ECU being the only team good enough to earn an at-large NCAA Regional bid among the conference’s eight members, but that conference slate is going to drag the Pirates RPI down as the season progresses so getting some victories in the midweek games is going to be vitally important. The opportunities are there (NC State x2, ODU x2, Charlotte, UNC, Campbell), but ECU has to take advantage of them.
So what are the 2023 Pirates going to be? AAC Champs for the third year in a row? A team that can’t quite put it all together and misses the postseason? The group that finally knocks down the door to Omaha?
The pieces are there to make good on the latter, but the results thus far have been all over the place.
Who’s on the mound for these guys?
Tuesday: LHP Zach Root (FR)
RF Jacob Jenkins-Cowart (SO) - .318/.361/.545, 5.0 BB%, 18.3 K%, 1-1 SB. Broke onto the scene last year in a big way, earning Freshman All-America honors. Had a huge postseason in helping the Pirates host Texas in the Super Regional round. A bit of a lanky build, he has power - especially to the pull side - but uses an all-fields approach that makes him a very dangerous hitter.
2B Jacob Starling (JR) - .299/.432/.477, 15.8 BB%, 16.5 K%, 6-7 SB. Having a breakout year after a solid 2022 campaign that saw him earn 2nd Team All-AAC honors. Starling has always had a good eye, but his contact skills have greatly improved. Tremendous defender.
C Justin Wilcoxen (JR) - .349/.408/.581, 6.1 BB%, 19.2 K%, 1-1 SB. Most pundits expected Ryan McCrystal to run away with the catching job this year, but Wilcoxen put an end to that. McCrystal still gets starts behind the dish here and there, but Wilcoxen (from Millbrook HS in Raleigh) has been the complete package all year. He’s thrown out 6-of-9 attempted base stealers.
1B Josh Moylan (JR) - .308/.413/.538, 12.8 BB%, 24.8 K%, 0-1 SB. The big lefty hitter was a Freshman All-American in 2021, but had bad luck in 2022 (.265 BABIP) that resulted in a disappointing sophomore season. He’s back to mashing this year even if the home run totals haven’t spiked. Very good hitter.
LHP Zach Root (FR) - 2-1, 1 SV, 3.26 ERA, 19.1 IP, 10.0 BB%, 23.8 K%. Making his return as the Pirates’ midweek starter after Jake Hunter got the nod in last week’s tilt with UNCW. As with most freshmen, he’s been inconsistent, but there have been flashes that get you excited for what he could be in the future.
RHP Wyatt Lunsford-Shenkman (SO) - 2-2, 2 SV, 2.31 ERA, 23.1 IP, 4.2 BB%, 26.3 K%. ECU’s most frequently used relief arm, both in appearances and innings. He did pitch twice this past weekend (Friday and Sunday) so he might not get into this one.
RHP Garrett Saylor (JR) - 1-0, 0 SV, 3.63 ERA, 17.1 IP, 2.8 BB%, 30.6 K%. A 2022 2nd Team All-AAC selection, Saylor is the flexible arm that all college pitching staffs want. He was the Pirates’ closer last year, but has operated in a different capacity this year. He’s battling an oblique injury and hasn’t pitched since March 22nd, but it sounds like he could be ready for this one.
RHP Jake Hunter (SO) - 1-1, 0 SV, 2.93 ERA, 15.1 IP, 7.9 BB%, 28.6 K%. Big kid at 6’4, 230 lbs. He’s pitched almost exclusively in midweek contests this year, splitting time with Root as the midweek starter. Has some really good stuff and can tally up the strikeouts in a hurry.
Quick! Fun Facts!
East Carolina features a trio of players from the Raleigh area: SO C Ryan McCrystal (Fuquay-Varina, FVHS), SO RHP Jaden Winter (Apex, Pro5 Academy), and JR C Justin Wilcoxen (Raleigh, Millbrook HS).
Non-ECU related, but did you know that according to NC State’s Game Program, Wake Forest changed their mascot to the “Eagles” (Page 19).
In six full seasons at the helm of the Pirates program, Cliff Godwin has captured six conference titles (three regular season, three tournament) and has led the program to four Super Regionals (2016, 2019, 2021, 2022).
ECU had four alums play at the MLB level in 2022, but St. Louis Cardinals OF Alec Burleson is the only former player to reach the level thus far in 2023.
The Pirates have diced up opponents in Greenville this year to the tune of a 16-2 record in Clark-LeClair Stadium. Any game between these two programs is always huge, but this one has to be triple-circled for ECU after State took both games last year, and the last meeting was especially brutal when State poured it on late in a 12-3 victory in Raleigh.
The Wolfpack are coming off a potentially season-altering series win against Louisville, so confidence shouldn’t be lacking. As good as State’s weekend rotation has been, midweek starts have been extremely iffy. ECU’s bullpen has been the better of the two and that gives them the slight edge.
Outcome: A high-scoring, back-and-forth affair with ECU pulling out the win.