Coming off of a strong weekend in Alabama, and a midweek win against VMI, the Hoos look to have a strong showing this weekend at home against the East Carolina Pirates. I would consider this to be the most difficult out of conference weekend the Hoos have on their schedule. Even though the Cavaliers took two of three from the Pirates last year in Greenville, I expect this weekend to be a bit more difficult but still have the Hoos come out on top.
Last year was a big disappointment for the Pirates as they came into the year ranked with aspirations of making a late season push through the NCAA tournament and possibly make a run at Omaha. Unfortunately for the Greenville faithful, suspensions took a toll on the Pirates. The team was never able to put it together and was hurt by less than stellar defense. Ultimately the team missed the NCAA tournament after being bounced in the semifinals of the Conference USA tournament by Memphis and a disappointing 32-27 record.
The Pirates are lead on the mound by Sr. RHP Seth Maness. Maness was the Conf. USA Pitcher of the Year last year, First-Team All-Conference USA for the third straight year, and was selected by the Mariner’s in the 41st round. Fortunately for UVa they faced Maness last year in the opening game of the series and roughed him up for 4 runs in just under 6 innings en route to a 6-2 UVa victory. Fortunately for the Pirates and Maness, this is quite a different Cavalier baseball team. Maness had a strong outing last week against YOUNGSTOWN STATE (Really ECU? Is Youngstown St even a D1 baseball program? Do they give scholarships?) giving up only 1 ER on 4 hits in 7 innings. The other two starters in the weekend rotation, Mike Wright and Zach Woods turn in better performances against the Penguins (AN OHIO COLLEGE WITH A PENGUIN MASCOT…WTF?) each going 5 innings and not giving up a run. Wright logged a scoreless inning last year against the Hoos but I would not put too much stock in that.
Junior 1b Corey Thompson has started off the season the best at the plate for the Pirates. Thompson came into the year as the top position player on the team and is predicted to make the Conf. USA First team at the end of the year by Baseball America. He batted .377 last year and is batting an even better .400 so far this year. Phillip Clark and Tim Younger have also produced well for the Pirates so far this year with 3 hits each and a .375 batting average. Freshman SS Jack Reinheimer comes into the season as one of the more touted incomers to the conference this year. Reinheimer was drafted in the 31st round last year by the Braves and has started all three games this year for the Pirates batting .273 with 3 runs and 2 RBIs so far.
Even though neither the Pirates nor the Cavaliers are as touted as they were entering last season, I expect this to be a hard fought series for both teams. Both teams are riding high after fairly easy opening weekends and should be ready to play some real competition. As always, I don’t expect anyone to beat the Cavaliers on Friday. Hultzen was stellar last weekend and unhittable in intersquads coming into the year. I don’t see Tyler Wilson letting down the team on Saturday and expect him to turn in a strong start like he did last weekend in Auburn. The only game I could see the Cavaliers struggling in would be the Sunday matchup. The series should be tightly played and I am not sure the depth of the bullpen is quite there yet for the Hoos. Even so, I am confident the Hoos will take the series and move up in the rankings next weekend. As always, I (or Brian) will be providing updates on twitter @STLUVaBaseball and GO HOOS!