2022 College Top 25 Preview: No. 15 East Carolina
Last season: 44-17 (20-8 in AAC); reached super regionals
Final Ranking: No. 13
Coach (record at school): Cliff Godwin (258-130-1, seven seasons)
The good news: East Carolina brings back five regulars from last season’s lineup, six if you include fourth-year junior left fielder Lane Hoover, who started 38 games in 2021. Sophomore first baseman Josh Moylan, third-year sophomore second baseman Alec Makarewicz and third-year sophomore third baseman Zach Agnos look like the next stars of the Pirates’ lineup, and fifth-year senior center fielder Bryson Worrell has stretches where he can carry the offense. ECU also has one of the most talented starting pitchers in the country at the front of the rotation in third-year sophomore lefthander Carson Whisenhunt, and the bullpen, which was such a strength in 2021, should be strong again, led by third-year sophomore lefthander CJ Mayhue, who was excellent a season ago.
The bad news: With the departures of Connor Norby, Thomas Francisco and Seth Caddell, ECU lost a significant percentage of its power production from 2021. Those three accounted for 41 total home runs, which makes steps forward for the aforementioned Moylan, Makarewicz and Agnos all the more important, and it wouldn’t hurt if one or two others emerged to hit for at least occasional power. On the mound, the loss of righthander Gavin Williams, who was nearly unhittable last season, has cascading effects. Not only does it mean that ECU will be looking to Whisenhunt to be a workhorse ace on Fridays, but it means that it will need fifth-year senior lefthander Jake Kuchmaner to have a bounceback season as he slides up into the No. 2 slot.
Player to know: Carson Whisenhunt, LHP
Whisenhunt last season went 6-2, 3.77 with 79 strikeouts in 62 innings, giving East Carolina a quality second starter to pair with Williams in the rotation. He was particularly good early in the season, giving up just three runs over his first 22 innings, which were spread over four starts. His pace slowed after that, in part due to him battling injuries late in the season, but he bounced back with an outstanding showing with USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team over the summer, where he struck out 10 and walked one in six innings of work. His fastball is a low-90s offering that touches the mid 90s, and he has two swing-and-miss offspeed pitches. His changeup is the better of the two, as it had a 59% whiff rate last season, but his lesser-used curveball also had a greater than 40% whiff rate. It’s a very different repertoire than that of Williams, but there’s a chance for Whisenhunt to be just about as effective in 2022 as Williams was as the staff ace last season.
Path to Omaha: East Carolina has clearly established itself as the most consistent program in the American Athletic Conference, and the gap between it and the rest of the league appears to be widening. That cuts both ways. On one hand, the Pirates’ recent dominance of the AAC helps keep its floor high, as it’s simply going to be far more talented than most of its conference foes. But on the other hand, the lack of consistent contenders alongside ECU means that it won’t get as many quality wins in conference play as teams in the SEC, ACC, Pac-12 and Big 12 get, which in turn heightens the degree of difficulty for the Pirates to earn a top eight national seed. ECU has had plenty of teams in the past that have been good enough to get to Omaha, including last year’s team, but it has often found itself with a particularly tough super regional opponent on the road. If the returners in the lineup collectively take a step forward and Whisenhunt is ready to be a workhorse, the Pirates should once again be Omaha quality, but again, what their draw is in the bracket come June will also play a big role.
Alabama, Kentucky Keep NCAA Tournament Hopes Alive With Crucial Wins
At the SEC Tournament on Wednesday, Alabama and Kentucky both won games critical for keeping their NCAA Tournament hopes alive.
|DH||Ryan McCrystal||Fr.||HS—Fuquay-Varina, N.C.|