Pirates sweep Keith LeClair Classic

Published 12:09 pm Monday, March 3, 2014

By Michael Prunka

Sports Intern

The 11th annual Keith LeClair Classic proved to be a fruitful weekend for East Carolina baseball. The Pirates (6-5) conquered Western Kentucky, Pittsburgh and Ohio State en route to a clean sheet in Greenville’s annual baseball invitational.

The Pirates returned home from a disappointing Virginia road prior to the Classic. They were swept by top-ranked Virginia and shutout 3-0 by Virginia Commonwealth in a midweek game. That didn’t stop them from getting back to business in Clark-LeClair Stadium.

“It was really special,” said manager Billy Godwin. “I thought our guys played well against three very good clubs. It’s a huge point in the season for us to turn it around and get three wins against three really good clubs.”

ECU opened the weekend with a dramatic, low-scoring affair against Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers boasted some of the best batters the Pirates would face this weekend, but pitcher Jeff Hoffman kept them at bay. In eight innings of work, he gave up an unearned run on just five hits and struck out 14 batters—a career-high for the right-hander.

Ryan Williams, who wear’s Keith LeClair’s No. 23 this season, ended up getting credit for the win. He threw two innings without giving up a run or a hit and notched four strikeouts.

He was also credited with his fourth win on the season in ECU’s 3-2 victory over Ohio State on Sunday, in which he gave up just one hit in 3.2 innings of relief.

“It’s great,” said Williams. “The honor of wearing 23 is enough, but just getting wins for this team is something I’m proud of.”

The weekend was a successful one for not only Williams, but ECU’s pitching staff as a whole. Drew Reynolds tied the school record for career saves on Saturday after striking out the side in the top of the ninth. He then turned around and broke it by keeping Ohio State at bay.

The Buckeyes, trailing 3-1, hadn’t registered a hit in two innings heading into the top of the ninth. They made a three-hit comeback effort, but Reynolds held them to just one run en route to the narrow victory.

“It’s a tremendous honor,” said Reynolds, “but it’s more than just me. It’s about all the great guys I’ve played with along the way. Seth Simmons, who came before me, taught me kind of how you’re supposed to handle it, being a closer. Then, the late-game situations. Coach [Dan] Roszel and coach Godwin having their faith in me and helping me become better… It’s just 27 wins I’ve helped the Pirates get.”

Despite the consistent pitching, the Pirates only managed four hits in 10 innings against Western Kentucky before Garrett Brooks scored on fielding error by second baseman Scott Wilcox.

They got the bats going against Pittsburgh on Saturday, though. ECU outhit the Panthers 10-2 en route to a 4-2 win.

“You just got to get in there and swing,” said Reynolds, who went 2-for-4 at the plate and scored a run. “You can’t worry about the results and anything like that. You just try to do all you can to help your team win and brighter days will come.”

ECU’s hitting broke through in a four-hit, two-run inning against Pitt when Reynolds and Zach Houchins hit consecutive singles. Reynolds, Houchins and Luke Lowery all had a pair of hits for the team on Saturday.

Ian Townsend, along with Lowery, carried that momentum to Sunday’s game versus Ohio State. Townsend went 3-for-4 at the plate and Lowery had another two-hit game. ECU was still outhit 7-5, but the Pirates showed offensive improvement throughout the weekend.

Thanks to a successful weekend, the Pirates will ride a three-game winning streak into its conference-opening series against Marshall this coming weekend. The Thundering Herd, on the other hand, visit Greenville winless through their last six outings.