A trip to the College World Series in Omaha in mid-June. All-American Athletic Conference and All-American team selections. That’s what was expected of the East Carolina baseball team and its players in 2017.
When a team that was only a game away from reaching the College World Series brings in a recruiting class D1Baseball ranked No. 18 in the country, to go along with 19 returning lettermen, much should be expected. But after 37 games, the Pirates find themselves only a game above .500, and are still looking for their first conference win of the season.
But while ECU hasn’t played up to the expectations set at the beginning of the year, its players haven’t given up on the season. It would be easy to point to injuries as the reason why the Pirates haven’t lived up to the preseason predictions. But senior third baseman Eric Tyler refuses to blame injuries for the team’s woes.
“We talk about next man up, so we’re not really worried about the injuries,” Tyler said. “We’re worried about how we go about our business day-in and day-out, just doing the right things each day.”
Even though the Pirates aren’t willing to place the blame on injuries, one can’t help but wonder how their record would look if they were at full strength throughout the season.
Not only has ECU been hit by injuries, but it’s been some of its most talented players that have spent time off the field. AAC Preseason Co-Pitcher-of-the-Year Evan Kruczynski missed six weeks due to an ankle injury, while unanimous preseason All-AAC selection Dwanya Williams-Sutton has played in only 10 games because of a recurring thumb injury.
But while Kruczynski, Williams-Sutton and several other Pirates have missed time because of injury, there is a hope that those injury struggles will strengthen the team moving forward.
“You’re going to get beat up in this game,” senior catcher Travis Watkins said. “But the strong survive and I think that’s what we’re built on.”
While it seems ECU is massively underperforming with a record of 19-18, the team is only five games worse than last year at the same point of the season. And with 19 games remaining in the regular season, there is reason to believe the Pirates can make a late run to qualify for regionals.
One reason to think ECU can turn its season around is because the Pirates have lost some close games that easily could’ve gone their way. Most recently, they lost games to Central Florida where they blew a two-run lead in the eighth inning and another in the ninth as well.
But in order for ECU to turn things around, it has to improve upon its run differential in the final innings. Even though the Pirates have scored 23 more runs than their opponents overall, they’ve been outscored 46-29 in the eighth and ninth innings combined, including 23-7 in the ninth.
On a team that has several freshmen and sophomores as starters, it’s important for the upperclassmen to provide leadership, something ECU’s seniors understand.
“We just try to be consistent as seniors, try to bring a consistent mindset and attitude to the field each day. That’s the one thing we can control,” Tyler said. “We want to continue to spread a positive energy around the group.”
Despite the season not going as planned, the Pirates still believe they can accomplish their goals.
“I think that we’re going to turn it around,” Watkins said. “I think that we just need a little more out of everyone as a team effort.”