For the second time in two weeks, East Carolina (32-24, 16-14 Conference USA) will take a trip to Hattiesburg, Miss. to take on Southern Mississippi (32-23, 19-11 C-USA). As the Pirates prepare to take on the C-USA tournament host team, there's a lot of confidence in the pitching staff.
ECU will be working without the services of ace pitcher Jeff Hoffman, who recently underwent Tommy John surgery. Even without him, ECU has excelled on the mound. In the last series of the season, the pitchers only surrendered six runs.
"We've got a lot of experienced guys out there who have had success in their times here," said Drew Reynolds. "We have a lot of confidence in them and they have a lot of confidence in themselves. Whoever we put out there, we know they're going to give it their all. We feel good about them on the mound."
Reid Love is likely to get the nod for Wednesday's game. He stepped and filled the Friday slot left by Hoffman and shined throughout the final weeks of the season.
Love pitched 5.2 innings in ECU's lone win versus Southern Miss two weeks ago—a 7-5 victory in 15 innings. In that span, he gave up four runs (three earned) on nine hits. In his last start of the season, he threw his third complete game of the year. He held UTSA to just two runs (none earned) on five hits en route to a 3-2 win.
Tyler Bolton and Brett Mabry are two other pitchers likely to start in the conference tournament. Even though ECU lost, Bolton did his best to put the Pirates in position to take Game 2 versus UTSA by tossing 5.1 hitless innings that saw the Roadrunners notch one unearned run. Mabry, with plenty of support from the defense behind him, allowed a pair of runs (both earned) on seven hits and fanned five in ECU's 3-2 win in the series finale.
There's also a lot to be confident about beyond the starting pitchers. Ryan Williams, who was named first-team all-Conference USA, has been exceptional out of the bullpen all season. In the aforementioned 15-inning win versus Southern Miss, Williams pitched 5.1 innings and only allowed a run (earned) on five hits.
Brett Mabry and Drew Reynolds also made an impact out of the bullpen in the last meeting between the Diamond Bucs and the Golden Eagles. Mabry gave up a hit in 2.2 scoreless innings before Williams came in. Reynolds, who also garnered all-conference first-team honors, closed out the game and earned the win by pitching 1.1 hitless innings that kept Southern Miss off the board.
Reynolds has showed he's more than just a closer, too. This past weekend, he pitched four innings, surrendering just two hits and no runs.
ECU feels good about its team in general, too. In addition to bringing a strong pitching staff to Hattiesburg, the Pirates also boast an impressive corps of batters. Zach Houchins, who also earned all-conference first-team recognition, has the league's third-best batting average (.352). Reynolds is also among the top-10 with a .324 average.
"We're a confident bunch," said Williams. "We know that we have one of the best teams out there and we know that, on any given day, we can come out here and get a win with the talent we have on this team this year."
First pitch for Wednesday's game is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. Should the Pirates win, they'll play the winner of UAB versus UTSA. Should they lose, they'll play the loser of that matchup.