ECU Pirates to battle Rice Owls

Published 2:12 pm Friday, April 10, 2009

By By GREG KATSKI, Staff Writer
With the No. 1 Rice Owls coming into town today for a weekend series, the East Carolina baseball team picked a bad time to go into an offensive funk.
In ECU’s past two games, a 8-3 loss at UNC-Wilmington on Wednesday and a 3-1 loss at UNC on Monday, the Diamond Bucs have tallied a total of four runs.
To take their fourth straight Conference USA series to start the season, the Pirates will have to break out the bats again in a big way.
Even with the midweek slump, ECU is hitting a lofty .355 as a team. The Pirates are led by former Washington High School great Trent Whitehead, who is batting at a .423 clip.
As ECU’s leadoff hitter, the Pirates rely on Whitehead to get the offense rolling, which means the standout sophomore will have to do whatever he can to get on base. Whitehead has had a rough couple of games this week, in which he grounded into a game-ending, rally-killing double-play in the top of the ninth inning at UNC. For the UNC game, he was 0-for-5 with three strikeouts and three left-on-base.
ECU also needs production from its mashers, including Kyle Roller and Stephen Batts. Roller and Batts are tied for the team lead with eight home runs, while Roller has driven in a team-best 41 runners.
Look for the Pirates to lean on senior second baseman Ryan Wood, as well, who is riding an 18-game hitting streak into today’s game.
ECU ace Chris Heston will start today’s game, with first pitch set for 7 p.m. The junior college transfer is having a stellar season, with a 5-0 record and 2.68 ERA. Heston is averaging almost a strikeout an inning, with 42 punch outs in 43.2 innings of work.
The Pirates will need better fielding behind Heston than they provided during the week. ECU made several costly errors against UNCW and UNC, including a botched fly ball by right fielder Devin Harris that led to two Tar Heel runs in Monday’s matchup.
On the season, ECU boasts a decent fielding percentage of .967, with 40 errors in 32 games played.
The Pirates are going up against a Rice team sure to keep ECU’s defense on its toes. Rice is hitting .319 on the season, with an on-base percentage of .397.
In the Owls’ last game at longtime rival Lamar on Wednesday, Rice plated 10 runs on 14 hits.
The Owls are led by freshman phenom Anthony Rendon, who leads the team in home runs (10), runs batted in (42), hits (47) and is hitting at a .388 clip.
Sophomore Rick Hague is right behind Rendon, batting .377 with 27 runs scored and 46 hits.
The baby Owls boast a formidable starting rotation of Mike Ojala (1.38 ERA, 40 strikeouts in 32.2 innings pitched), Ryan Berry (4-0, 1.96 ERA, opponents batting average of .131) and Taylor Wall (4-2, 4.32 ERA).
There is reason to hope that the Pirates can salvage a series win at Clark-LeClair Stadium.
The Owls are a mortal 6-4 on the road, while a nearly unbeatable 14-3 at home. Rice stands at 23-7 overall and 7-2 in conference, sitting in second place behind ECU.
The Pirates are 25-7 overall and 8-1 in C-USA. ECU should look forward to playing on its home soil, as it is 16-3 in the friendly confines of Clark-LeClair.
With another conference series win over the Owls, the Pirates will continue to sit atop the C-USA standings and claim conference supremacy.