Texas prepares for rowdy super regional at ECU field

The Jungle sits 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 home to East Carolina’s rowdiest diehards who wear megaphones for taunting purposes, turn tailgating into a day-long event, and spend pirate games draped over the walls, chatting 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 (45-19) and eighth seed ECU (45-19) 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 knows The Jungle after visiting several times during his previous stops at Rice (2003-11) and Tulane (2015-16).

“This location is going to be very similar to TCU in terms of stadium location,” Pierce said Wednesday, per KVUE. “He will sit on you. The canoes are really close to the field. It’s a fast infield. You have a 5 foot, maybe 6 foot high outfield fence 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 couple of times, players have had beer thrown at them, I’ve had safety issues in the bullpen. They really don’t care. call themselves The Jungle, and they act like it.

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 playoff loss, a 9-1 loss to Coastal Carolina in the Greenville Regional Finals, 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 Wednesday during a post-workout Zoom call. “For the first time in my coaching career, it’s a player-led 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, five saves, 2.43 ERA) is a locking arm out of the bullpen.

Senior outfielder Bryaon 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 ( 0.343).

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 the 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 couldn’t avoid being asked by local media after Thursday’s practice regarding his comments about East Carolina fans.

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

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

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Twitter: @NRMoyle

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