In what has become routine, East Carolina rolled to the American Athletic Conference Regular Season Championship and earned the number one seed in the Conference Tournament. However after a surprising opening game loss, the Pirates were forced to claw their way back through the loser’s bracket, winning four elimination games only to fall to Tulane in AAC Tournament Final.
While the Pirates were able to cruise through the AAC schedule, they weren’t as strong across the board as they have been in the last couple of seasons. Their 4-8 record against Quad 1 teams is a major reason they are a number two seed in the Charlottesville Regional as opposed to hosting themselves.
Leading the way on the mound for the Pirates is Trey Yesavage, the sophomore right hander was virtually un-hittable when healthy this season going 6-1 in 13 starts with a 2.80 ERA. But it was his .99 WHIP and .193 batting average against that really jump off the page. However the key is his health. He was shut down due to arm soreness in late April, though he did pick up a save in the AAC Tournament win over Cincinnati and pitched 5.2 innings of long relief in a win over UCF a couple days later. In his first season as a starter, he earned All-Conference First Team honors and has been invited to the 2023 Team USA camp along with UVA’s Griff O’Ferrall and Jay Woolfolk.
Rounding out East Carolina’s starting rotation are Carter Spivey and Josh Grosv. The pair both earned Second Team All-American Athletic Conference honors with Spivey going 7-3 in ten starts and Grosv going 4-2 in 15 starts. Zach Root is their mid-week starter and was named to the AAC All-Freshman team. He went 3-3 on the year and figures to be the Pirates starter if needed or available for long relief.
Speaking of long relief, the Pirates are fairly atypical in how they handle their pitching. They have six pitchers who logged four or more starts. Compare that to the Virginia Cavaliers who only had four such pitchers. Additionally, their outings are generally shorter. Their top four starters average 3.8 innings per appearance whereas Virginia’s clock in at 4.4 innings per appearance. It’s unconventional, but as we saw in the AAC Tournament it’s a pitching staff with enough versatility that’s valuable in a double-elimination tournament where pitching can be a war of attrition.
As a team, East Carolina batted .292, good for second in the AAC. And while they ranked tied for 4th with 74 HR, they led the league by a whopping margin in runs and RBI. It starts with Carter Cunningham, the outfielder who batted .324 with a .439 OBP and was second on the team with a .974 OPS. He knocked eight home runs and earned First Team All-AAC honors. Jacob Jenkins-Cowart was also named All-AAC First Team batting .294 with nine home runs as a designated hitter.
From there, the Pirates boast a stellar infield led by second baseman Jacob Starling. Starling batted .314, stole 18 bases, and tied for the team lead with 56 runs scored. Joining Starling on the right side and on the second team is Josh Moylan. Moylan led the Pirates in home runs with 15 and in RBI with 66. Up the middle, both Justin Wilcoxen behind the plate and Joey Berini at shortstop also made the All-AAC second team. Wilcoxen batted .322 while Berini batted .312 and led the squad in stolen bases with 19. Coming in second on the team with eleven home runs was Alec Makarewicz who was also third in RBI behind only Moylan and Starling.
East Carolina is making its 19th appearance in NCAA Regionals since 1999 (32nd overall) and have been to seven Super-Regionals including in each of the last three years. However, the Pirates are still looking for that elusive first appearance in Omaha.
Virginia and East Carolina are no strangers to one another, in neither the regular season nor the NCAA Tournament. All-time the Cavaliers are 30-24 against East Carolina, but 14-6 in the Coach O’Connor era. The two teams faced off in the Charlottesville Regional in 2011 and 2016 with the two teams splitting their only two head to head matchups, while the Pirates bested Virginia 7-6 last season in the Greenville Regional.
East Carolina will face the Oklahoma Sooners in Friday’s night’s 2 vs. 3 game. First pitch is Friday, June 2nd at 7PM and the game will be televised on ESPN2.