Pirates hope to get on a roll|Open C-USA tourney play against Rice

Published 7:07 pm Wednesday, May 26, 2010

By By KEVIN TRAVIS, Sports Editor
GREENVILLE — If the East Carolina Pirates have any hopes of playing in a regional tournament, they will have to win the Conference USA Tournament.
Thanks to an 8-6 win over Houston in the regular-season finale, along with getting some help from other teams, the Pirates qualified for the C-USA Tournament. ECU will enter the tournament, which begins today at Houston’s Cougar Field, as the sixth seed.
“We’ve been struggling lately and we knew what we had to do,” said ECU center fielder and leadoff man Trent Whitehead, a former star at Washington High School. “I’m really proud of these guys for never giving up.”
The first use of a pool play format in the C-USA Tournament features two three-team groups playing a set schedule of games for three days. There is no double-elimination in pool play.
The winner from each pod squares off in Saturday’s championship game at 8 p.m.
The Pirates (31-25, 11-13) will take on top-seeded Rice (35-20, 17-7), the regular-season champions, at 4 p.m. today.
ECU will face No. 2 seed Southern Miss (32-21, 14-10) at noon Thursday. The Pirates will conclude pod play Friday at noon against No. 3 seed Memphis (27-28, 12-12).
Despite dropping four of their last five to end the regular season, including the first two games in a three-game series with Houston, the Pirates are confident heading into the tournament.
“We’ve been playing solid all weekend,” senior first baseman/designated hitter Kyle Roller said. “It just came down to one big hit here and there. We have a little momentum going on our side. We know we can do this.”
ECU coach Billy Godwin is hoping his team can forget about the regular season and concentrate on the task at hand.
“If you get the opportunity to get into the postseason, anything can happen,” Godwin said. “We’re just looking to play another day. It’s almost like it’s a new season.”
ECU enters the tournament hitting .319 with 76 home runs. Corey Thompson leads ECU with a .378 average to go with eight homers and 54 RBIs.
Thompson had eight multiple-hit games in the team’s final 16 games of the regular season. He hit five home runs and drove in 18 runs during that stretch.
The sophomore, who is looking to stay hot during the tournament, believes the Pirates can win the tournament.
“We want to go down to Houston and show them what we can do,” Thompson said.
Other top hitters for ECU are Whitehead (.336, 4 HRs, 31 RBIs, 15 SBs), Roller (.331, 10 HRs, 45 RBIs), Devin Harris (.315, 11 HRs, 48 RBIs), John Wooten (.311, 9 HRs, 40 RBIs), Austin Homan (.308, 1 HR, 27 RBIs), Jared Avchen (.295, 7 HRs, 38 RBIs) and Zach Wright (.264, 13 HRs, 46 RBIs).
Seth Maness (9-3, 4.52 ERA) and Zach Woods (8-4, 4.73 ERA) have been ECU’s top pitchers. Seth Simmons (2-4, 4.28 ERA) has notched nine saves.
The Pirates were swept by Rice during the regular season. The Owls posted wins of 20-3, 3-2 and 11-9.
ECU left-hander Patrick Somers (1-1, 9.00 ERA) will get the start against Rice.
The 20th-ranked Owls are hitting .321 with 77 home runs. Anthony Rendon is hitting .378 with a team and conference-high 22 home runs and 72 RBIs.
Other top hitters for Rice are Diego Seastrunk (.364, 8 HRs, 39 RBIs), Rice Hague (.339, 11 HRs, 47 RBIs), Jimmy Comerota (.333, 4 HRs, 39 RBIs), Michael Fuda (.328, 5 HRs, 38 RBIs), Jeremy Rathjen (.326, 12 HRs, 62 RBIs) and Chad Mozingo (.320, 1 HR, 32 RBIs).
Jared Rogers (7-1, 4.50 ERA) has been Rice’s top pitcher.
ECU was also swept by Southern Miss. The Golden Eagles won 14-4, 8-2 and 7-6.
Maness will start against the Eagles.
Southern Miss is hitting .327 with 65 home runs. B.A. Vollmuth leads the team with 15 homers, 63 RBIs and a .383 batting average.
Other top hitters for the Eagles include Dillon Day (.391, 1 HR, 30 RBIs), Adam Doleac (.365, 5 HRs, 49 RBIs), Taylor Walker (.361, 7 HRs, 50 RBIs), Mark Ellis (.335, 7 HRs, 40 RBIs), Tyler Koelling (.325, 3 HRs, 33 RBIs), Joey Archer (.306, 6 HRs, 34 RBIs) and Kameron Brunty (.297, 9 HRs, 37 RBIs).
Scott Copeland (9-0, 3.91 ERA) has been the ace of the Eagles. Collin Cargill has notched nine saves.
The Pirates took two of three from Memphis. After the Tigers posted a 6-5 win in the series opener, ECU took victories of 20-9 and 3-2 in the next two games.
Woods will start against the Tigers.
Memphis is hitting .324 with 49 home runs. Chad Zurcher leads the way with a .396 average to go with five homers and 40 RBIs.
Other top hitters for Memphis are Drew Martinez (.389, 41 RBIs), Tyler Huelsing (.351, 11 HRs, 65 RBIs), Heith Hatfield (.348, 3 HRs, 14 RBIs), Jacob Wilson (.341, 4 HRs, 39 RBIs), Phillip Chapman (.315, 4 HRs, 29 RBIs), Adam McClain (.313, 4 HRs, 31 RBIs) and Rick Russell (.311, 5 HRs, 32 RBIs).
The Pirates have qualified for the regional tournament in 10 of the last 11 seasons, including three straight.
ECU advances to the Super Regionals last year, where they fell to North Carolina.