|Dylan Johnson / ESPN Greenville|
The East Carolina University Pirates hosted the 16th Annual Clark-LeClair Classic in Greenville over the
weekend, taking on Utah, Wright State, and Western Carolina. ECU opened up the series against Utah on Friday.
ECU won its opener of the LeClair Classic via a 7-6 walk-off against Utah in the 10th inning:
- Poor weather: ECU has yet to play a weekend where the schedule wasn’t affected by the weather. The opening series against Radford, ECU had to play a doubleheader on Friday and finished the series on Sunday. Last weekend against Monmouth ECU played a doubleheader on Saturday and finished the series on Sunday again. This time, ECU made it to the sixth inning tied 4-4 against Utah before rain stopped play. The teams had to finish the game Saturday and play the already scheduled Saturday game.
- Both starting pitchers went through five full innings of work. ECU starter Alec Burleson didn’t throw his best start yet but slightly outperformed Utah starter Kyle Robeniol. Burleson gave up three runs, while Robeniol gave up four. Burleson struck out four to Robeniol’s one, and Robeniol gave up 10 hits to Burleson’s five.
- Single fest: ECU jumped out to a quick 4-0 lead over Utah in the first three innings. A big part of this was five consecutive singles in the third inning that produced three runs. Spencer Brickhouse started it off, followed by Ryder Giles, Bryson Worrell, Turner Brown and Lane Hoover.
- Call it: ECU had a shaky moment out in the outfield against Utah. In the fourth inning with ECU leading 4-1 at the time, Chase Fernlund hit a high fly ball in left-center field. Left fielder Bryant Packard and center fielder Bryson Worrell both converged on the ball, but neither called the other off. The ball dropped between them and two runs scored, much to the chagrin of the ECU crowd. Of course, in the fifth inning a similar fly ball was hit to left-center but this time Worrell called Packard off and made the catch. ECU fans gave a sarcastic cheer for the routine play.
- Both bullpens weren’t spot-on either, however. ECU’s bullpen allowed three runs while Utah allowed four. Zach Barnes (1.0 inning) and Trey Benton (1.2 innings) both pitched in relief and gave up those three runs. Evan Voliva was the difference maker. Voliva pitched 2.1 scoreless innings to finish the game and get the win to become 2-1 on the year.
- The big walk-off: The two teams exchanged two-run innings and carried a 6-6 ballgame into extra innings. Voliva held Utah scoreless in the top half of the inning, and ECU rallied in the bottom half. Alec Burleson began the inning with a double, one of his three hits in the game. Burleson was pinch ran for by Christian Jayne and moved to second when Jake Washer walked. Both runners moved forward a base when Brickhouse grounded out, and Giles was intentionally walked to load the bases. Dusty Baker came up clutch with the single that scored Jayne and gave the Pirates the win.
ECU fell short in the night game against Wright State, who has made the NCAA tournament in three of the last four seasons, on Saturday, losing 12-4:
- Off to a bad start: ECU had a lot of momentum from its walk-off win but that did not carry over to game 2 of the LeClair Classic. Wright State came out and jumped to a 4-0 lead in the first two innings.
- Big innings: Wright State not only scored four runs in the second inning against ECU but also plated six runs in the seventh inning that all but finished ECU, making the game 11-1 at the time.
- Jake Agnos: Agnos had an interesting game against Wright State. Agnos stuff was working pretty well, striking out nine batters in 4.2 innings but also giving up five runs (four earned). Agnos even struck out the side in the first and third innings but struggled too much in the second and fifth. “That’s my fault we lost. I didn’t give our team a chance to win. I take responsibility for that. I should’ve made better pitches,” Agnos told reporters after the game.
- 9 hits as a team: While four ECU players recorded multi-hit games against Utah, only Ryder Giles knocked two hits against Wright State. Most of the success at the plate came off of Wright State’s Tristan Haught, who gave up three runs and five hits in his 2.1 innings of relief.
- Searching for consistency: ECU head coach Cliff Godwin to reporters after the loss against Wright State: “We’re trying to play the best version of ourselves, and we’re definitely not doing that consistently right now. Getting Packard and Brickhouse back is a start. We just need to mesh together as a group. I think we’ve got to get to know one another better as a group and that starts with me and the players.”
ECU finished the LeClair classic by bouncing back with a 12-6 win over Western Carolina:
- Veteran star performances: The ECU offense was carried in particular by the play of Packard and Brickhouse. The duo combined for seven hits and six runs. Packard batted 4-for-5 after being dropped from leadoff to fifth in the batting order, and Brickhouse was 3-for-3. Packard said that the lineup change and talk with Godwin helped him to take some pressure off of himself. The two had yet to break out since returning from injuries and it was a great sight for the Pirates to have those two rolling.
- Godwin on Packard and Brickhouse: “Nobody works and prepares harder than those two guys. Some fans and media think they should hit home runs every time, that’s not going to happen. They’re human beings. They don’t need to try and do anything more than what they did today. They just need to put together quality at-bats. It is what it is. It’s their draft year. Fans want to talk about it. Preseason All-Americans. Everybody wants to talk about it. If they worry about that crap, they’re going to put external pressure on themselves and it’s not going to be good. I thought today was the first time where you could see a look in their eye where they were like ‘Hey, I ain’t worried about nothing but winning a pitch at a time,’ and I think that’s why they had their success,” Godwin told reporters after the game.
- More injury trouble: Despite having those two come back from injury and play well, the Pirates can’t get all the way healthy. Alec Burleson, who has been the team’s most consistent hitter so far, came up lame after hitting a double off of the wall in the fourth inning and immediately came out of the game. Coach Godwin said he’s sure Burleson will miss a few games but is day-to-day.
- Jake Kuchmaner: ECU was up 7-2 when Tyler Smith and Sam Lanier gave up a combined four runs in the sixth inning to make it 7-6. That included a two-run home run given up by Lanier that made Sunday the sixth straight game that the ECU bullpen has given up a home run. Jake Kuchmaner came out of the bullpen for the Pirates and changed the game. Kuchmaner pitched two scoreless innings while ECU’s offense pulled away before Zach Barnes pitched a scoreless ninth inning. Coach Godwin said he gave Kuchmaner the player of the game shirt. “To be honest with you, I thought our team felt like there was something else bad that was going to happen after the home run. But Kuchmaner came in and changed the momentum of the game,” Godwin told reporters after the game.
- Godwin’s message to the fans: Godwin delivered a message to how fans get uneasy when things don’t go ECU’s way. “Fans, you guys want to complain to somebody, complain to Coach Godwin. I’m the head coach. Don’t get on our players, and when stuff goes wrong, cheer for us to help us win the game instead of making the stadium tense when times get tight. When I was at LSU, LSU would win the game because the other team was going to make an error because all the pressure the fans put on them. Here and at Ole Miss, everybody thinks the worst is going to happen. Why is something bad going to happen? East Carolina has got a great baseball program. Why would they not expect us to win? They need to expect us to win and if we don’t and the kids play hard then go home come back the next day and cheer hard for our guys. But be positive with our guys. I’m not saying everybody’s negative, but there are fans who yell at us like they’re not our players. Like what are you doing? These kids pour their heart and soul into East Carolina. You should be pulling for them not against them.”
ECU’s record is now at 8-4 as it travels to Mississippi to take on Mississippi State Tuesday at 7:30 p.m., and Ole Miss on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. as well. Both teams are top-25 teams and will give ECU a good early-season challenge.