The American Athletic Conference is a tough conference during baseball season, and it is always difficult to get sweeps during AAC play. That’s why ECU head coach Cliff Godwin stressed to his team how important it was to get started with a sweep in conference play instead of just taking two out of three, especially against a quality UCF team.
That’s exactly what ECU (18-6, 3-0 AAC) did by finishing off the sweep with a 6-5 win over UCF (15-9, 0-3 AAC) on Sunday.
“Our first two years here as a coaching staff, we sat in hotels and restaurants after we swept the last weekend, and said if so and so loses, then we’ll have a tie for the conference championship. We want to win the conference championship. There’s a lot to be done between now and then, but it’s a lot better being 3-0 than 2-1. Just proud of our guys,” Godwin said.
For the second straight game, it was the long ball that was the winning difference for ECU over UCF. On Sunday, ECU shortstop Turner Brown launched a no-doubter, go-ahead home run in the seventh inning to give the Pirates a 5-4 lead it wouldn’t give up in the 6-5 win.
“That is probably the first one I’ve ever hit that I knew was gone right away. That was a cool feeling. Our fans were awesome all weekend and they came out and supported us and were a big reason why we swept them this weekend,” Brown said.
Each game in the series the ECU offense have the bullpen some insurance runs late in the game. Sunday was no different as Spencer Brickhouse launched a solo home run to right field to push the lead to 6-4.
It wasn’t easy from there however. UCF did enough to make Pirate fans nervous in the ninth, cutting the lead to 6-5 and having runners on the corner with one out and the middle of the lineup hitting.
UCF’s Mika tried to lay down a sac bunt to tie the game but Burleson pounced on it and got him out at home to keep the lead. Burleson then gets the next hitter to pop out and end the game.
“We work on that at practice all the time and if you can get the out at home, then get the out at home. It was bunted right back to me and he (catcher Seth Caddell) was right there to tag him out,” Burleson said.
Jake Kuchmaner got the start for the Pirates and while he wasn’t perfect this time, he did enough to keep them in the game. Kuchmaner finished with 4.1 innings pitched, two runs allowed on two hits.
He got off to a bad start however, as ECU had to deal with a first-inning deficit for the third time in the series. UCF scored two runs in the top of the first thanks to a pair of solo home runs.
This time, just like on Friday, ECU responded immediately and scored three runs in the bottom half of the inning. Bryant Packard led off with a double and Lane Hoover got out before UCF starter Trevor Holloway left unexpectedly due to injury.
From there, Brickhouse walked, Burleson singled home a run, a sac fly from Brown and a RBI triple from Thomas Francisco put ECU up 3-2.
Kuchmaner locked in after that and threw three scoreless innings before being relieved in the fifth. Zach Barnes came in but gave up two runs. Trey Benton came in and ECU ended the inning on a double play, limiting the damage to just two runs.
As it had done all weekend ECU responded again, this time in the bottom of the fifth to tie the game. Brown singled, Francisco walked, and Caddell singled Brown home. ECU left the bases loaded for the third time in the game.
UCF threatened again in the sixth when Sam Lanier came in for Benton. But Burleson, who took over in left field for Packard, made a great catch to save a run and end the threat. Evan Voliva and Burleson took it the rest of the way from there.
Now ECU has the rest of the week off with no midweek games, and Godwin said the players will have an off day Monday. The Pirates will be back in AAC action this weekend in a road series against USF.
- Brickhouse was a star all weekend. He went for 4 RBI’s Friday, and a HR on Saturday and Sunday. He totaled six hits and eight RBI for the series.
- The ECU bullpen pitched great for the series, allowing four runs in 13.2 innings pitched over the weekend. ECU used five relievers on Sunday and many of them threw Saturday as well. “A lot of guys were taxed, we were a little bit thin. Just a really gutsy performance by our entire pitching staff. None of those guys probably felt fresh, but they just went out there and got it done. Then Burly, doing what he did at the end, he’s playing in the outfield and to go in there after throwing two innings on Friday night and shut it down was big,” Godwin said.
- Outfielder Bryant Packard has dealt with nagging injuries for most of the season and again was pulled out of the game with the bases loaded in the fifth inning. Godwin didn’t have an update after the game, only saying that Packard tweaked something and had to come out.