GREENVILLE, N.C. — Now that ECU's 2014-2015 athletic season is finished, InsideECUSports.com highlights the top five moments of the year.
's elimination from the Coral Gables Regional last weekend marked the completion of the athletic department's inaugural season in the American Athletic Conference.
So with that in mind, InsideECUSports.com has narrowed dozens of memorable plays and games to a condensed list of the year’s top moments.
However, it’s understood that whenever anybody attempts to put such lists together that are designed to encapsulate a full year, it’s simply impossible to cover everything. So in order to narrow the scope, we’ve limited our nominees to football, men’s basketball and baseball.
Now that the parameters are clear, here is our list of ECU’s top five moments of the 2014-2015 athletic season:
5. PIRATES CLAIM WINS OVER CINCINNATI AND MEMPHIS ON THE HARDWOOD
When ECU first announced its move to the American Conference, the first thought that many of the decision’s critics had was whether or not the Pirates were capable of competing in a respected basketball conference.
After all, the league was coming off championship seasons by both the Connecticut men and women’s basketball programs.
Although a 14-19 (6-12 AAC) season doesn’t exactly go as far as silencing naysayers, Jeff Lebo
’s Pirates exceeded the expectations that many of the so-called prognosticators held for them in Year 1.
Prior to this season, ECU had never beaten Cincinnati —dropping all eight of its previous meetings dating back to the school’s early years in Conference USA — and owned just one victory against Memphis all-time.
This all changed on Feb. 1, when the Pirates trailed the Bearcats 46-39 with 3:23 left in the second half, but proceeded to close the game on an improbable 11-0 run on their way to a 50-46 win at Minges Coliseum. Freshman B.J. Tyson scored 16 of his team-best 18 points in the second half.
Not to be outdone, Tyson led the Pirates again on Feb. 10 with 23 points — 20 of which were scored in the second half — to claim the program’s first victory over Memphis, 64-53, since Lebo’s first season in 2011.
4. LAST-MINUTE DRIVE PROPELS ECU PAST RANKED HOKIES
Before I can begin to summarize the Pirates’ game-winning drive, it must be understood how much the game had changed since ECU jumped out to a 21-0 lead in the first quarter against the 17th-ranked Hokies.
In order to effectively do that, here is the way I painted the scene at Lane Stadium following ECU’s 28-21 victory in my post-game column
“The noise inside Lane Stadium — one of the country’s most intimidating road environments — was deafening and everyone in the building knew Virginia Tech had all the momentum, and that the Pirates had produced next to nothing offensively since their three-touchdown outburst in the first quarter.
“At this point, ECU had more penalty yardage (84) in the second half than total yards on offense (68) and gone three and out on its previous two drives.
“But just when it appeared the Pirates had squandered their chance at an upset win on the road, they caught a break. Virginia Tech kicker Joey Slye booted the kickoff out of bounds, giving ECU the ball at the 35 yard-line.”
|Shane Carden sprints into the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown at Virginia Tech.|
The hush of that raucous crowd is still embedded into my memory, and the Hokie faithful only got quieter during the game’s final proceedings.
Suddenly, the Pirates had recaptured the same rhythm they began the game with and it only took them three plays to go from seemingly being buried beneath six feet of dirt to pay dirt.
First it was Cam Worthy pulling down a jump ball for 31 yards; then Shane Carden hit him again for 28 more to the Virginia Tech 1 yard-line; then Carden capped the drive with a one-yard quarterback keeper for the go-ahead score with 17 seconds left.
It was ECU’s first win against a ranked opponent since defeating No. 18 Houston in the 2009 Conference USA Championship and the program’s first Top 25 road victory in 18 years (Miami, Fla., 1996).
3. ECU WINS AMERICAN CONFERENCE BASEBALL TOURNAMENT
Entering a new league with a new coach who had never been a Division I head coach before, the expectations weren’t high for the Pirates in 2015.
However, Cliff Godwin never set parameters with his bunch and on May 24 in Clearwater, Florida, ECU played its best game of the season in a 9-1 victory over No. 18 Houston in the American Conference Tournament title game.
True to form, it took a complete team effort to secure the program’s first conference tournament championship since 2002.
Senior shortstop Hunter Allen, who had been playing most of the year with a torn ligament in his thumb, went 3-for-5 at the plate and scored two runs to earn Most Outstanding Player accolades.
But the most important hit of the game — arguably, the season — came from the most unlikely of sources.
Prior to the AAC championship game, designated hitter Luke Bolka had not taken an at-bat since April 26 and his name had not been penned onto a lineup card since April 18.
Despite all of this, Godwin liked Bolka’s power — and we all saw why in the fifth inning when the sophomore belted his second home run of the year, a two-run blast, to open scoring with two outs.
The Pirates never looked back, scoring eight of their nine runs with two outs. In relief of starter David Lucroy, left-hander Nick Durazo tossed five scoreless innings, while surrendering just one hit.
2. ECU’s HISTORIC ROUT OF NORTH CAROLINA
70-41. Those digits can almost be left alone to tell the story of ECU’s win over North Carolina on Sep. 20.
That, and the number 789 — which represents the amount of yardage Lincoln Riley's offense rolled on the Tar Heels that afternoon — and 51,082, accounting for the record crowd at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
As a result of the lopsided victory, ECU was rewarded with its first Top 25 rankings in both the USA Today Coaches and the AP polls since 2008, and was ranked as high as No. 18 at one point.
Just like he did a year earlier in a 55-31 win in Chapel Hill, Shane Carden accounted for six touchdowns (four passing, two rushing) and 438 yards passing, while fellow senior Breon Allen rushed for a career-best 211 yards. Allen’s day was highlighted by a 44-yard touchdown run that he scored on a draw-play, on 3rd-and-28.
| Freshman Trevon Brown caught two touchdowns in ECU’s 70-41 win against UNC.|
But why doesn’t this game top our list?
Well, on most occasions, the sequel never outshines the original picture. However, with that said, if we’re going to continue making this movie analogy, ECU’s 70-41 drubbing of UNC is the Godfather: Part Two. Very good, but it’s still in the same class of its predecessor.
Also, not only did the Pirates fall short the lofty expectations that were set after capturing such a momentous win — they dropped four of their last four games to close the year with an 8-5 record — but the Tar Heels finished 6-7, which was a massive disappointment for a team that was nationally ranked in the preseason polls.
1. JUSTIN HARDY BECOMES FBS’s CAREER RECEPTIONS LEADER
Justin Hardy joined the ECU football team as a walk-on quarterback from nearby Vanceboro, N.C., and left it as the NCAA FBS’s all-time career receptions leader.
On Nov. 22, Hardy surpassed former Oklahoma receiver Ryan Broyles by grabbing his 350th career catch on a routine, button-hook pattern against Tulane.
Then, just before halftime, the game was halted and Hardy was given his moment in the spotlight while the home crowd at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium cascaded loud cheers down and his entire family watched on from the bleachers.
Well, most of them anyway.
In February 2013, Hardy’s father, Sam, suffered a fatal heart attack at the age of 48. Since then, ECU coach Ruffin McNeill, who often times refers to himself as the football “dad” to his players, has played a larger role in Hardy’s life.
So after coolly fielding a Tulane punt, Hardy was met at midfield by McNeill, who put his arm around Hardy’s neck and whispered, “Your dad is looking and smiling at you.”
McNeill then pointed to the west end zone, where a large banner with Hardy’s image and the words “Career Receptions Record: Justin Hardy” imprinted had just been draped down the side of the Murphy Center.
Hardy finished his career with 387 catches — recording at least two receptions in all 49 games of the games he played — and additionally owns ECU records in receiving yards (4,541) and touchdown catches (35).
He was also awarded the 2014 Burlsworth Award, which is given out annually to the nation's most outstanding player who began his career as a walk-on.
On Day 3 of last month’s NFL Draft, Hardy was selected by the Atlanta Falcons in the fourth round (107th overall), becoming the first Pirate to be picked since Dwayne Harris in 2011.