Pirates,Cardinals meet again with Omaha at stake

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At long last, will this weekend finally be the moment for the East Carolina baseball team?

After fighting its way back through the losers bracket by dropping its opening game in the NCAA Greenville Regional, the Pirates won four straight games to advance into the super regional round.

Now making its fifth all-time appearance in a super regional, ECU, the No. 10 overall seed, visits No. 7 Louisville in a best-of-3 series beginning Friday at noon for a trip to the College World Series. The series begins with Friday’s contest on ESPN2, with Saturday’s game set for ESPNU at 3:30. A third game, if necessary, will be contested Sunday at noon on ESPN2 at Jim Patterson Stadium.

The weather stands to play a factor in completing the series, with showers and thunderstorms forecast through Monday in Louisville.

With each team owning a 47-16 record, ECU and Louisville are meeting for the first time since 2005, when both were members of Conference USA. It’s the 30th all-time appearance in the NCAA postseason for the Pirates, which is the most for any team in the nation without reaching the CWS.

Regular-season champions of the American Athletic Conference, ECU hit at a torrid .341 clip during its five regional contests. Alec Burelson, a versatile presence in the outfield or on the mound, leads the Pirates with a .373 average in 61 of the team’s 63 games. Burelson has 61 RBIs and nine home runs. 

Bryant Packard (.363), Lane Hoover (.341), Spencer Brickhouse (.335), Thomas Francisco (.315), Jake Washer (.310) and Turner Brown (.300) lead the offense. Giving a boost to the ECU offense will be the return of Hoover, who was 100 percent cleared for super regional play according to head coach Cliff Godwin.

Sophomore Bryson Worrell, a product of Hunt High, had a torrid Greenville Regional, finishing 6 for 9 with a pair of home runs. Worrell, as a predominately right-handed switch hitter, gives the Pirates a solid option against left-handed pitching. However, with Hoover’s return, Worrell’s role may be adjusted this weekend.

On the mound, junior left-hander Jake Agnos, the AAC Pitcher of the Year, enters with a 2.02 ERA and 140 strikeouts to go along with 42 walks. He’s expected to be opposed in Friday’s opener by Louisville southpaw Reid Detmers, the owner of a 2.96 ERA with 156 strikeouts. Louisville, the ACC regular-season champion which hits .291 as a group, is led by Tyler Fitgzerald (.321), Danny Oriente (.320), Lucas Dunn (.309) and Alex Binelas (.308).

The usual closer for the Cardinals, Michael McAvene, must serve the remaining two games of a four-game suspension set forth by the NCAA after Louisville’s Sunday win over Indiana. McAvene was ejected in the ninth inning after mouthing “that’s horrible” once a potential game-ending strikeout pitch sailed inside for a ball. He would be available to return for a third and deciding game.

Louisville reached the super regional after getting a walk-off 4-3 win over Illinois State in a winner-take-all contest Monday.

The winner of the ECU-Louisville super regional will oppose the winner of the Vanderbilt-Duke super regional in the opening game of the CWS in Omaha, Nebraska. 

The other half of that CWS bracket will filled in with the winners of Mississippi State-Stanford and North Carolina-Auburn, allowing for the outside chance that the Pirates, Tar Heels and Blue Devils could be situated on the same side of the draw in Omaha.