After sinking below .500 halfway through the season, East Carolina (30-24, 14-10 Conference USA) travels to Houston as the No. 3 seed in the C-USA tournament, where they will attempt to use the momentum they’ve gathered throughout their remarkable turnaround to propel them.
The tournament format consists of a round robin round and a single championship game. In the round robin, the eight teams are separated into two four-team divisions, with each of the four teams playing one another. The team with the best record in each division plays in the championship game on Sunday.
ECU will face sixth-seeded Houston, Tulane (7) and Southern Miss (2), beginning on Thursday afternoon. The Pirates may have spent the latter half of the season on a warpath against their conference opponents, but these three clubs could prove to be troublesome for ECU.
Houston (35-20, 13-11 C-USA) will be ECU’s first opponent of the tournament. The Cougars swept the Pirates around the midpoint of the season, marking ECU’s low point of the season.
ECU seems like a different team now, while Houston still remains rock-solid. After getting swept by UCF in April, the Cougars finished the season 8-3. Just like the Pirates, they’re riding plenty of momentum into the postseason.
Houston’s strength lies in its productivity at the plate. Despite having 27 fewer hits than the Pirates this season, the Cougars have 29 more runs scored. Sophomore outfielder Landon Appling has been a consistent offensive force with his 61 hits, 32 runs and 25 RBI’s.
ECU will its counter reliable Houston’s powerful offense with its reliable pitching rotation. Redshirt-freshman David Lucroy ranks among the league’s best in fewest hits (46), runs (28) and earned runs average (2.70). Not to be forgotten, sophomore Jeff Hoffman has been the Pirate’s ace all season long with 11 quality starts and has proved he’s capable of pitching deep into games.
Tulane (28-27, 11-13 C-USA) and Southern Miss (28-25, 15-9, C-USA) were both victims of ECU’s season-ending rampage that earned them the third seed. Even so, both series were closely contested. Between the six games played against Green Wave and Golden Eagles, four were decided by one run.
ECU will rely on Drew Reynolds, Zach Houchins and Chase McDonald to lead them offensively. In the last weekend of the season, the standout trio combined for five hits, seven runs and six RBIs.
Reynolds and McDonald were both named first-team all-C-USA on Tuesday, while Houchins made the second team.
On the season, Reynolds leads the Pirates with a .313 batting average. Houchins also boasts a batting average above .300 and 38 RBI. With 34 runs, 45 RBIs and a league-best 11 homeruns, McDonald will be on opposing pitchers’ radar.
Fortunately, playing away from Clark-LeClair Stadium shouldn’t be too much of a disadvantage. Though their last visit to Houston didn’t turn out well, ECU has a solid 12-9 road record this season.
Both Thursday and Friday’s games will begin at Noon, while Saturday’s group-finale against Southern Miss is set for 8 p.m.
If the Pirates advance beyond the round robin, they will face UCF, UAB, Rice or Memphis.