ECU baseball falls in season opener to No. 2-ranked Virginia

Published 12:07 am Saturday, February 14, 2015

GREENVILLE — Virginia (1-0) pitcher Nathan Kirby wasted no time proving why he’s one of the top prospects in all of baseball, as he stymied the East Carolina offense and helped the No. 2 Cavaliers to a 3-1 victory on Opening Day.

During his seven innings of work, Kirby allowed just three hits and struck out five batters, effectively spoiling new head coach Cliff Godwin’s first game at ECU.

“He’s throwing 90-94 miles per hour, flipping his off-speed pitches in there at will,” said Godwin of Virginia’s ace. “Our guys had a very big challenge for themselves today, but I’m satisfied with the way they competed.”

ECU starter Evan Kruczynski did his best to keep the Pirates in the game, but could only make it through five and one-thirds innings, allowing eight hits and giving up two unearned runs. Time after time, though, he managed to get his team out of jams and ultimately kept the Pirates in the game.

“I just wanted to slow the game down,” said Kruczynski. “I got put into some pretty fast situations but I just took my time and got out of some situations and put my offense in striking distance.”

Despite bailing himself out of trouble and keeping the Pirates in the game, the sophomore Kruczynski was haunted by poor defensive play as both of his allowed runs came off errors. The first was the result of a potentially inning-ending popup that catcher Travis Watkins could not corral in foul territory during the fourth inning. Virginia third baseman Kenny Towns scored just two batters later when Robbie Coman was caught in a rundown, which gave the Cavaliers a 1-0 lead.

The following inning, a dropped popup by second baseman Charlie Yorgen allowed the Cavaliers to extend their lead to 2-0.

“It’s opening day, everyone is going to have the opening day butterflies,” said Kruczynski. “We’ll make those plays tomorrow and the rest of the season.”

From there, Kirby and the rest of the Virginia pitching staff had a lead they would not relinquish. After 90 pitches, 60 of which were strikes, Kirby was pulled from the game and the duo of Alec Bettinger and Josh Sborz came in from the bullpen in relief.

“We competed hard,” said Godwin. “The pitchers pitched really well but we didn’t play clean defense. We swung the bats okay against a very good pitcher but the team competed hard and I was pleased with that.”

The Pirates avoided the shutout when junior left fielder Jimmy Boyd hit a sacrifice fly to score Garrett Brooks, who led the eighth inning off with a shallow single over second base. For the first time in the game the Pirate offense made some noise and pulled the game to 3-1.

“We’re a team that fights,” said right fielder Parker Lamm. “We came back and battled with them, they got the edge a little bit, but its baseball and you have to move on the next play, the next pitch.”

But the bottom of the ninth yielded three straight outs as Sborz earned the save and preserved the Cavalier victory.

Boyd, like four other Pirate players, finished the night hitless while Brooks recorded just one of the team’s five hits.

Lamm, who played in his first game with the Pirates, led the ECU with two hits including a third inning double. Beyond Lamm, no Pirate was able to find double digits in the hits category.

“We know that if we put together good at bats, we can score runs, move runners around and create havoc for their defense,” said Lamm. “We just have to put together a lot of quality at bats and see where it goes.”

The Pirates return to the diamond on Saturday for a double-header against the Cavaliers.