Texas ready for a warm welcome to East Carolina

The jungle is just beyond the left-field wall of Clark-LeClair Stadium, though it often feels like there’s no barrier at all.

The grassy berm is the habitat of East Carolina’s rowdiestdiehards who carry megaphones for taunting purposes, turn tailgating into a one-day event, and spend Pirates games draped over walls, arguing with opposing left fielders.

It’s not just a swarm of stupid, boozy beasts. Fans study the biographies of opposing players. They design clever taunts. Sometimes, if the mood is right, they offer a hot dog or other treat to visitors. However, given the stakes this weekend, the Longhorns shouldn’t expect a mid-game restoration.

Nationally seeded No. 9 Texas has played in hostile environments over the years, but has yet to experience the unique ECU setup. That will change at noon Friday, when the Longhorns and eighth-seeded ECU begin play in the best-of-three Greenville Super Regional at the Pirates campus in North Carolina.

Texas isn’t going completely blind, however. Coach David Pierce is familiar with The Jungle having visited numerous times during his previous stops at Rice (2003-11) and Tulane (2015-16).

“This place is going to be very similar to TCU in terms of stadium location,” Pierce said this week in an interview on KVUE. “He will sit on you. The canoes are really close to the field. It’s a fast infield. You have an outfield fence that’s five feet, maybe six feet high, that people hang over it. The relievers are open, people cling to them. So the environment is going to be different from anything we’ve been in.

He added: “I’ve been there a few times, players have had beer thrown at them, I’ve had safety issues in the bullpen. They really don’t care. call ‘The Jungle’, and they act like that.

Texas isn’t playing against the fans, of course. He’ll have to weed out the chaos outside to focus on a dangerous yet desperate ECU program to reach his first College World Series after reaching super regionals in three straight NCAA tournaments and four of the last five.

The Pirates started the year 14-13. They have won 31 of 37 games since, a streak that included an American Athletic Conference-record 20-game winning streak.

They avenged their only loss, a 9-1 loss to Coastal Carolina in the Greenville Regional Final, with a 13-4 win to advance and host the program’s first super regional.

“They’ve been playing postseason baseball since our 28th game, and it’s been great,” ECU coach Cliff Godwin said on a post-practice Zoom call Wednesday. “For the first time in my coaching career, it’s a player-driven team. I always feel like we’re playing with house money because no one thought we were going to be good this year.

The Pirates have a front-row starter in Game 1 left-hander CJ Mayhue (5-1, 2.82 ERA) who struck out 66 in 67 innings and limited opponents to a .196 batting average. And AAC pitcher of the year Carter Spivey (8-0, 5 SV, 2.43) is a locking arm out of the bullpen.

Senior outfielder Bryson Worrell (18 home runs, 57 RBI) provides the power for ECU and is one of four batting position players above .320, a quartet led by All-AAC outfielder Lane Hoover (.343 ).

Texas will have its own ace on the mound in southpaw Pete Hansen (11-1, 3.08). And Big 12 Player of the Year Ivan Melendez will lead the Longhorns’ offensive charge after hitting his 30th homer in a 10-1 win over the Air Force in the Austin Regional Finals.

“We’re going to do everything in our power not to let him beat us,” Godwin said of Melendez, a finalist for every Notable National Player of the Year award. “But they have some very good players around him, so you can’t take these guys lightly in any way.”

Texas can’t afford to lose focus against one of the best teams in the country. But Pierce could not avoid questioning over his comments from local media after the team’s practice on Thursday.

“It was a compliment…they love baseball, they’re excited,” Pierce said on Pirate Radio 92.7 FM.

That they make. And Texas will soon have the full jungle experience, for better or worse.

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