Pirates goal now obtainable
Published 5:12 pm Friday, April 24, 2009
Commentary by GREG KATSKI, Staff Writer
The odds were stacked against them.
The Pirates were getting poor starting pitching performances on a nightly basis and throwing a tall, lanky, true freshman pitcher at the No. 1 Heels. The same Heels that had recently beat them in heartbreaking fashion, 2-0, stomping a ninth-inning rally by inducing a game-ending double-play from former Pam Pack great Trent Whitehead.
The same Heels that had taken nine straight from the Diamond Bucs, several in the same vein as the last game, one with the roles reversed.
Two seasons ago, the Pirates and Tar Heels were pitted against each other in the NCAA Regionals in Cary, UNC as the No. 1 seed in the four-team round robin, ECU as the No. 2.
The Pirates lost twice to the Heels, the second time holding a lead going into the bottom of the ninth inning. UNC rallied against stout closer Shane Matthews to take the game, and the regional, and carried its momentum all the way to the College World Series. The Tar Heels finished that season as national runners-up, the Pirates finished far too early after another disappointing 40-win season (that is, if you can call a season with 40-plus wins disappointing).
Over the past decade, ECU has made a habit of racking up wins against lesser foes during the regular season, but folding when the games really count.
Well, Wednesday night’s game wasn’t in regional action, but it will certainly count for the Pirates.
In fact, I dare say ECU’s dominating 4-0 win over the rival Tar Heels, the consensus No. 1 team in the nation, could be the Pirates’ first step on the long road to Omaha, Neb. Omaha, home to the College World Series, has always been the ultimate goal for ECU. And it has always been just out of reach.
Every year, head coach Billy Godwin and his rowdy bunch of Pirates come back from another lost 40-win season and talk about that “ultimate goal.” Not to hex the Bucs, but I think that goal can finally be reached this season.
I didn’t think so before Wednesday night, especially after the Camels scored a huge upset on the Pirates last week, and Conference USA basement dwellers Tulane took two of three in New Orleans, but after such a momentous win, ECU could be primed for a run.
I can’t remember the last time the Pirates scored such a big victory.
As I sat in the Daily News office, watching freshman phenom Kevin Brandt mow down the Tar Heels’ potent offense on my handy Gametracker, I got goosebumps. And I got jealous that my boss, and Daily News sports editor Kevin Travis, was covering the game. A game that featured the birth of a star in Brandt, a tense ninth-inning in which sophomore All-American Seth Maness had to come on to close the deal for the Pirates with the bases juiced and one out, and a first pitch thrown, or rather rolled out by Chubby Checker.
Kevin told me that Chubs, the man behind the rock ‘n’ roll classic “The Twist,” gave the Bucs a pep talk before the game.
I don’t know what the man said, but it definitely got the boys fired up.
So now, I leave with a suggestion for the Pirates: If you can’t get Chubs to give every pregame pep talk for the rest of the season, at least play “The Twist” while you get loose and stretch.
Then when you find yourselves in Omaha come mid-summer, make sure to bring Chubs along for the ride. If he gets another crack at throwing out the first pitch in the College World Series, hopefully, this time, it won’t bounce.
Greg Katski is a sports writer with the Daily News. You may reach him at 940-4216, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.