Well, two-thirds of a series preview. The 'Hoos have already kicked off the baseball season on the right foot with a 6-2 win earlier today in Greenville.
The main thing to take away here is that this ECU series will be as good a sneak peek at the regular ACC lineup as you'll get for the next couple weeks, until we actually get to the Florida State series to begin the conference season. Not a single unfamiliar face started this first game, although juco transfer Kenny Swab did pinch hit for Danny Hultzen late.
Speaking of Hultzen, it's nice to know he's picking up where he left off last year. OK, the first inning could have gone a little smoother, but in the five innings after that, ECU managed only two hits. The Pirates are no joke of a lineup to deal with, either. They really only had two big losses from a lineup that was 15th in the country in batting average and 23rd in runs per game, as well as being one of only 14 to hit more than 100 home runs last year. So holding ECU's Trent Whitehead and Austin Homan, for example, to 0-for-3, is just what you like to see, as they hit .376 and .354 last season, respectively.
Another guy who doesn't appear to be rusty from the offseason is Steven Proscia, who drove in four of the team's six runs. Good to see him out there hitting home runs - not that the offense is going to be lacking hitters, but Proscia's going to be counted on to slug a little bit too.
Tomorrow we'll send Robert Morey to the mound, who along with Hultzen is already pretty much penned into the weekend rotation. After that, the audition begins on Sunday when juco transfer Cody Winiarski gets first crack at the third weekend spot. Couldn't ask for a better audition. This ECU series is a much better way to start the year than just easing into it with a few tomato cans. ECU counters with a pair of guys who are graduating from all-around utility pitcher to full-fledged starters: Kevin Brandt on Saturday and Brad Mincey on Sunday. Both are tough, but Brandt especially so. Last season he was named to a few freshman all-American squads and had one specially nice gem of a game when he shut out North Carolina for eight and a third innings. Mincey's luck against UNC wasn't as hot - in ECU's elimination game in the NCAAs, Mincey managed to allow three runs in a measly third of an inning.
Oh, and here's your human-interest tidbit of the day: in summer league baseball last year, not only were Mincey and UVA's own Will Roberts teammates with the Newport Gulls, but they were both called upon to start championship-clinching games. When Newport failed to close out the NECBL championship over Vermont in Roberts's start (through no fault of his own, by the way: Roberts pitched six shutout innings) Mincey got the opportunity in the rubber match of the best-of-three and the Gulls sealed the deal.
So the moral of the story, as if you couldn't tell by the ranking numbers next to ECU's name, is that they're very, very good, which might just make this the most important series of the entire regular season. Yeah, you heard right. I don't want to hear any more lamebrained idiocy from the selection committee trying to justify why we got shipped to the absolute worst regional they could think of. If we can win the series against ECU here (on the road no less) and if ECU's as good as advertised, which I don't doubt, then there won't be any of this BS about weak nonconference schedules. (It would be nice also if the Coastal Carolina game doesn't get rained out this time around.) We've already avoided a sweep, which yes, my paranoid mind was worried could cause another #2 seed in a California regional somewhere. Now to unleash the bats and show everyone why that top-five ranking is justified.