Pirates prepare midweek matchups with in-state opponents

Published 12:33 pm Monday, April 20, 2015

GREENVILLE — Seemingly always on the outside looking in, East Carolina welcomes a duo of triangle teams to Clark-LeClair Stadium for midweek matchups with Atlantic Coast Conference foes N.C. State and Duke.

The Pirates (24-16, 6-6 AAC) face N.C. State (21-16, 9-11 ACC) Tuesday night and then square off with Duke (22-17, 5-15 ACC) just a day later, as the non-conference portion of the schedule nears its end point.

With just two more midweek, non-conference games left on the schedule, victories over the traveling, in-state opponents would mean more than just bragging rights for the Pirates.

Strength of schedule and victories over quality teams go far in the strange world of college baseball and outside of the season-opening sweep at the hands of Virginia, the Pirates haven’t faced many top-tier opponents.

Wins over the Wolfpack and Blue Devils would bolster ECU’s RPI (or Rating Percentage Index), and though the Pirates appear to be long shots for meaningful post-season baseball, three weeks remain in American play.

The Tuesday night matchup with N.C. State will mark the second meeting between the two schools this season and the Pirates will be seeking redemption after being shutout by the Wolfpack, 7-0, back in March.

In that game, a midweek matchup, the Pirates collectively managed just five hits, while starting pitcher Jimmy Boyd was roughed up through six innings of work on the road.

This week, however, and with the emergence of pitcher Reid Love in a weekend role, Cliff Godwin seems likely to turn to bonafide starter Jacob Wolfe in an attempt to stymie the Wolfpack offense that put up 10 hits last time the two teams met.

The N.C. State offense, though potent, has slowed down significantly since the start of April.

So far this month, N.C. State has managed just 33 runs through 10 games (3.3 runs per game), including an 11-7 victory over Florida State. Its 3-7 record is indicative of the recent offensive struggles that N.C. State has encountered.

The reeling offense of the Wolfpack hasn’t been team-wide, as five players are hitting .290 or higher so far this season. Senior Logan Ratledge has personified the top-heavy Wolfpack lineup, as his .370 batting average not only leads the team, but also ranks second in the entire conference.

Ratledge also brings a power stroke, his .603 slugging percentage and six home runs being team-bests.

Joining Ratledge in the .300-plus club is Preston Palmeiro (.360), Jake Fincher (.325) and Andrew Knizer (.324). With 15 combined home runs between the four sluggers, the Wolfpack offense could break out of its recent funk at any moment.

It’s not clear who N.C. State head coach Elliot Avent will turn to for the midweek start with four Wolfpack pitchers having gotten midweek calls so far this season. Junior Jon Olczak got his first start of the season in N.C. State’s loss to Elon, but he lasted just three and one-thirds innings, allowing three runs.

Brad Stone, Ryan Williamson and Evan Mendoza are also candidates and have seen midweek starts this season, but all three rank in the bottom four in terms of ERA on the team.

Having just 24 hours of recovery time, ECU will have to refocus on another in-state opponent, this time the Duke Blue Devils.

Duke, which is in the midst of a forgettable ACC season, is facing offensive struggles of its own, but unlike conference mate N.C. State, the Blue Devils have struggled all season.

With freshman Peter Zyla standing as the only Blue Devil with a .300-plus batting average (.308), Duke has a lacking lineup.

Duke has only hit nine team home runs, one more than ECU leader Luke Lowery, and has just five conference wins so far this season.

Jimmy Boyd and Nick Durazo both seem likely candidates to start the game for ECU against Duke.

Wins against any power-five opponent can go along way, but bragging rights over to of the ACC’s most recognizable schools might be motivation enough for the Pirates.