ECU closes regular season against UCF

With a chance to break out of a three-way tie for third place in Conference-USA, East Carolina hosts UCF at Clark-LeClair Stadium for its final series of the season. Michael Prunka has more.

After sinking below .500 this season, East Carolina has made a remarkable turnaround. Five consecutive C-USA series wins has put the Pirates in a three-way tie for third place with first and second still within reach.

ECU (28-23, 12-9 Conference USA) is coming off an impressive outing against Marshall in which the Pirates allowed only five runs. Despite only having won two of its last five games, UCF (28-25, 12-9 C-USA) scored 24 runs in that stretch. That said, a strong defensive performance will be necessary for the Pirates taking their final series.

The Knights are entering dangerous territory. ECU's 16-14 record at Clark-LeClair Stadium isn't insurmountable, but UCF's road woes aren't likely to fix themselves this late in the season. The Knights are a mere 6-13 outside Orlando.

Jeff Hoffman will be ECU's starting pitcher for Thursday's game. In eight innings against Marshall last weekend, Hoffman had seven strikeouts and allowed a single run en route to a 9-1 victory.

UCF will start standout Ben Lively on the mound Thursday. With a 1.88 earned run average, Lively is among C-USA's best. However, he gave up seven runs, all earned, in five innings last Friday versus Tulane.

ECU first baseman Chase McDonald, who leads the conference in home runs, had four runs and four RBIs. If he can continue to lead the team's offensive onslaught, UCF's best pitchers won't be able to slow the Pirates.

Zach Houchins and Drew Reynolds have been solidly behind ECU's offense, too. Both boast a batting average of at least .310 and combine for 112 hits and 61 runs. Along with McDonald, they will be instrumental to ECU taking its sixth-straight C-USA series.

Lefty Chris Matulis will pitch for the Knights Friday. Matulis is also coming off a poor performance last weekend. He was credited for a loss after allowing five earned runs in only 3.2 innings in his last start. It doesn't help Matulis that ECU is 12-8 against left-handed pitchers.

The Pirates will counter with redshirt David Lucroy, who leads the Pirates and is among C-USA's best in terms of ERA (2.01). Ryan Williams, who leads the Pirates with six wins, will start on the mound for the final game of the series.

ECU's defense will have its hands full. The Knights are one of the conference's most offensively dangerous teams. At the plate, Chris Taladay is one of the conference's best. He bats a .361 average and has a stunning 42 RBIs—both of which lead UCF and are in C-USA's top tier.

Erik Hempe has also been a driving force in UCF's offense. His 36 runs and seven home runs are both good for second on his team while his .497 slugging percentage leads the Knights. He and Taladay combine to make up a formidable UCF offense.

Thursday and Friday's games are scheduled for 6 p.m. Saturday's game honoring the team's eight senior players is slated to begin at 11 a.m.

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