With the season quickly approaching its conclusion, ECU's baseball team sits in fourth place in Conference USA and owns an impressive 25-17 overall record. The Diamond Bucs, much like their gridiron counterparts, have claimed wins against in-state rivals North Carolina and North Carolina State.
Jeff Hoffman has been a source of the aforementioned consistency. Each time the right-hander has toed the rubber, he's proven to be among the best pitchers in college baseball.
Just recently, Hoffman turned out a 16-strikeout performance against conference foe Middle Tennessee State. In eight scoreless innings of work, the junior allowed a just three hits and fanned 16 Blue Raiders. That outing was enough to earn him National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA) National Pitcher-of-the-Week and College Sports Madness Conference USA Pitcher-of-the-Week.
He also grabbed the attention of representatives from both of Chicago's Major League Baseball teams. Cubs president Theo Epstein and White Sox president Kenny Williams were both in attendance to watch Hoffman pitch. They didn't leave disappointed.
In fact, they didn't leave after Hoffman handed the game over to Ryan Williams. They stuck around to watch the senior record his fourth save of the season when he struck out a batter to help ECU hold on to its 1-0 lead. Williams earned his fifth save of the season the next day after surrendering an earned run on three hits in 3.1 innings pitched.
After a few days of rest, Williams came out of the bullpen against UNC to claim his nation-leading 10th win of the season. In the final 4.1 innings, he only allowed the Tar Heels a pair of hits and an earned run.
Williams, who wears No. 23 this season in honor of Keith LeClair, has amassed an earned run average of 1.70 and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 9.2 in 24 appearances. His consistent performance as a reliever earned him a spot on the midseason watch list for the NCBWA Stopper-of-the-Year Award.
Hoffman will miss his next two starts due to shoulder sourness. That said, the rest of ECU's starting pitcher corps will need to step up. Manager Billy Godwin has been able to turn to the likes of Reid Love and Tyler Bolton as consistent starters, but they haven't enjoyed the same consistency Hoffman has.
Love's performance has been somewhat streaky. He pitched a scoreless nine innings in a 6-0 win over UMBC on March 28. Come April 12, Old Dominion notched four runs in the first inning and chased Love before he could record a single out.
Brett Mabry has started three of his 13 appearances and has amassed a 1.36 ERA. Even if the right-handed senior isn't asked to start due to Hoffman's absence, he'll continue to make an impact coming out of the bullpen.
While Hoffman's absence will leave a major void among ECU's starting pitchers, the Bucs are still strong coming out of the bullpen. They have capable relievers and closers that should allow them to succeed in their coming weekend series versus Florida Atlantic and Florida International.