National rankings make for great fan talk.
Those same rankings put a target on your back.
South Florida came to Greenville this weekend and set sights on a series win over a top ten program on the road.
This one especially hurt because it came at home for the Pirates. Still, it was just the first weekend series this season that ECU failed to capture.
The Pirates had been unbeaten in game 3’s this year. They now stand at 8-1 in those games, outscoring the opposition 73-18.
The American Athletic Conference features several outstanding programs. This year’s standings offer up a log jam as we approach the halfway mark of the conference season.
USF, Houston and Cincinnati all stand at the top at 7-5. The Pirates and Connecticut are both 5-4. Central Florida and Tulane are both 6-6. Wichita State is 4-5 and Memphis is just 1-8.
“This is a very difficult league,” said ECU coach Cliff Godwin this weekend. “I’ve coached in the SEC and that’s a tough league. But the American is certainly right there.”
You get the feeling that the Pirates would dearly love another shot at USF in the American tournament in May down in Clearwater, Florida.
Last year’s tournament game may have been the prelude to some of this year’s “chippiness” between the Pirates and the Bulls.
You remember last year when ECU beat USF, 6-5, on a Kirk Morgan suicide squeeze bunt. That game ended with a meeting in the outfield between the two teams. Cooler heads prevailed. One of the Bulls players tossed the game ball over to Coach Godwin. He glared and then set that baseball back on the ground. That ball now sits in my man cave as one of my many ‘collector’s items’ I have accumulated.
After dropping game one of this series to the Pirates, 15-2, the Bulls responded with a 13-1 win. In game two, Joe Genord for USF danced his way around the bases after a home run to get the chatter going.
That chatter concluded when USF reliever Andrew Perez ended the game with a strikeout. He screamed at the Pirate dugout after the final out in a 5-4 win.
“We liked our chances late in the game, but their closer is really good,” said Godwin afterwards. “It was tough to get one run against him and he was out there for two innings. But we put ourselves in a position to score some runs, but it can go either way and today it went in their favor. We didn’t play quite as well today all around, not just offensively, pitching or on defense and they played well enough to win.”
In the loss there were still plenty of positives.
Bryant Packard extended his on-base streak to 18 games with his single in the eighth inning. Jake Washer pushed his hit streak to 11 games with his three-run homer in the third, while Andrew Henrickson’s hit streak moved to a personal-best nine games with a single in the second inning.
Next up is a road game in Durham against a very good Duke team. It’s a Duke team that is also ranked in the top ten in some polls.
“It will be another great, in-state test and we certainly look forward to bouncing back,” said Godwin.
It’s the first of five straight road games for ECU. After Duke, the Pirates play three at Memphis and then return home to travel to North Carolina State next week.