ECU baseball picked as preseason favorites in the AAC
After advancing to its fifth Super Regional in program history in 2019, East Carolina has been picked first in the 2020 American Athletic Conference preseason poll, as chosen by the league’s nine head coaches. The Pirates, who set a new conference record for wins with 20 a year ago, picked up six of nine first place votes.
Junior Alec Burleson has been named preseason player-of-the-year, while fellow classmate Jake Kuchmaner was tabbed as the preseason pitcher-of-the-year. Both were also chosen to the all-conference team with Kuchmaner being the lone unanimous selection.
Burleson, who was named to five All-America squads in 2019, is regarded as one of the top two-way players in the country after being named a finalist for the 2019 John Olerud National Player-of-the-Year Award. The Denver, N.C. native led the Pirates outright in eight offensive categories including batting average (.370), doubles (23), hits (91), RBI (61) and multi-hit games (23), while sharing the team lead in multi-RBI contests (16) and fielding percentage (1.000). He slugged at a .573 clip to stand second on the club and belted nine homers to rank third.
On the mound, he appeared in 24 games making nine starts where he owned a 6-2 ledger with five saves and a 3.28 ERA. Burleson earned his 11th career win against Campbell in an elimination game on June 3 in the 2019 Greenville Regional after working five innings. He fanned 68 batters while walking 26 and struck out a career-high 10 batters against Monmouth on Feb. 23. The lefty allowed 22 runs (all earned) on 56 hits in 60.1 innings and held opposing hitters to a composite .246 average. In the classroom, he is a six-time ECU Director of Athletic Honor member, a 2018 AAC All-Academic selection and was a 2019 Third-Team Google Cloud Academic All-American who boasts a 3.959 cumulative GPA as a business management major.
During the summer, Burleson played for the USA Collegiate National Team helping the Red, White and Blue to an 8-6 overall record which included series wins over Chinese Taipei and Cuba. He appeared in eight games making four starts in the field where he batted .267 (4-for-15) with a home run and three RBI. His lone home run, a solo walk-off blast in the bottom of the ninth, lifted USA to a 3-2 victory over Japan and was named USA Baseball’s International Performance-of-the-Year. On the mound, he sported a 2.53 ERA in three outings striking out eight in 10.2 innings.
Kuchmaner, a first-team all-conference pick last year, posted a 7-2 record in 17 appearances (14 starts) with a 2.99 ERA. He tossed the 28th perfect game in NCAA DI history at Maryland (March 17) just a week after no-hitting No. 9 Ole miss through 8.2 innings on the road. He stood second on the team in strikeouts (73) and innings pitched (87.1), while walking 26 and holding opposing hitters to a .203 composite batting average.
The Waxhaw, N.C. native worked into the seventh inning five times, eighth on four occasions and ninth in three contests. He fanned at least six batters in a game eight times with a career-best nine coming at Ole Miss. He swept league and national honors in consecutive weeks (March 11 and March 17) and was named to the College Baseball Foundation’s National Pitcher-of-the-Year Watch List. Kuchmaner picked up his seventh win of the season (11th career) in relief against Campbell in the Greenville Regional Championship Game where he allowed just one hit over 3.1 innings in a 12-3 victory.
On Dec. 16, the Pirates garnered their first preseason national ranking of the 2020 season after being tabbed No. 36 by Collegiate Baseball. A year ago, ECU finished ranked in all six national polls (Perfect Game/No. 11, Baseball America/No. 12, USA Today/No. 12, D1Baseball/No. 13, NCBWA/No. 13 and Collegiate Baseball/No. 15) after posting a 47-18 overall record.
Under direction of sixth-year head coach Cliff Godwin, the Pirates return 17 letterwinners, including Burleson, Kuchmaner and as well as 2018 AAC All-Conference performer Tyler Smith. In all, the roster consists of 12 freshmen, nine sophomores, 13 juniors and four seniors.
Also stepping onto the diamond are 20 newcomers, which features one infielder (Charlie Larson), one outfielder (Trevor Losito), three catchers (Matt James, Ben Newton and Justin Wilcoxen), a pair of two-way players (Zach Agnos and Skylar Brooks), one utility player (Alec Makarewicz) and 12 pitchers (Cody Benton, Parker Boyle, Elijah Gill, Trystan Kimmel, Dylan Lawson, Nick Logusch, C.J. Mayhue, Nate Nabholz, Kenny Schechter, Carson Whisenhunt, A.J. Wilson and Bradley Wilson).
The Pirates, who are set to open their 86th season of intercollegiate baseball on Feb. 14 at home against William & Mary, won the 1961 NAIA National Championship, have claimed 26 conference titles (14 regular season/12 tournament), made 30 NCAA Regionals and advanced to five Super Regionals (2001, 2004, 2009, 2016 and 2019).
Season tickets are officially on sale with packages starting as low as $120. Pirate fans have seven different options to choose from and can purchase their 2020 tickets by utilizing ECU’s Online Ticket Center (http://bit.ly/2gJlK0Y) or by contacting the ECU Athletic Ticket Office at (252) 737-4500.