Pirates prepare for conference tournament

Published 11:48 am Monday, May 18, 2015

CLEARWATER, Fla. — In just its first year in the American Athletic Conference, East Carolina finished with the second best record and effectively clinched the No. 2 seed in the tournament.

The Pirates (36-20, 15-9 AAC) will square off Wednesday with No. 7-seeded Central Florida (31-25, 1-14 AAC) in the first round of the tournament, taking place in Clearwater, Fla.

The tournament features a double-elimination format until the semifinal round. The winner takes the American’s automatic bid into the NCAA tournament.

A regional appearance in the 64-team NCAA tournament seems likely for the Pirates, as they boast an RPI of 38, but a first-round win over UCF, and a decent run over the next few days, will only improve their seeding.

In their only meeting of the season back in April, the Pirates swept the then-No. 24-ranked Knights in a three-game series, and won each contest by one run.

Since their last meeting, the two teams have followed different trajectories — ECU going 7-4 since the series and UCF posting a 5-7 mark. The Knights, who were early season favorites to win the conference, holding a rank as high as No. 2 at one point, plummeted from the standings, claiming the second worst seed in the American tournament behind only lowly Cincinnati.

The Pirates enter the first-round matchup fresh off of a series sweep of Cincinnati, while battling with the Houston Cougars for both the conference crown and the top spot in the tournament.

Houston faces off with Cincinnati in the first round, while No. 5 Memphis and No. 4 South Florida kick off the tournament on Tuesday. No. 6 Connecticut and No. 3 Tulane round out the first round action.

With a win over the Knights, the Pirates would face the winner of Memphis and South Florida, while a loss would pit ECU against the loser.

The matchup with the Knights marks just the third time the two teams have met in the postseason. UCF took an 11-1 victory in 2012 and the Pirates won, 6-3, in 2009.

ECU hasn’t made the NCAA tournament since 2012, where they were bounced in the Regionals by North Carolina.