Pirates sweep No. 24 Central Florida over weekend

Published 10:34 am Monday, April 27, 2015

DAVID CUCCHIARA | DAILY NEWS BRING OUT THE BROOMS: The East Carolina baseball team knocked off No. 24-ranked Central Florida over the weekend, marking their first sweep of a nationally ranked opponent since 1998.

BRING OUT THE BROOMS: The East Carolina baseball team knocked off No. 24-ranked Central Florida over the weekend, marking their first sweep of a nationally ranked opponent since 1998.

GREENVILLE — Overcoming late-game struggles, the East Carolina baseball team downed one of the nation’s best, sweeping conference foe Central Florida over the weekend.

Riding high on a three-game winning streak, including two walk-off wins over N.C. State and Duke, the Pirates (29-16, 9-6 American Athletic Conference) picked up where they left off, hitting another walk-off in the opening game of the series, during Friday’s 6-5 win over the No. 24-ranked team in the country.

Eric Tyler’s single up the middle was good enough to knock co-captain Hunter Allen home in the 10th and seal the series-opening victory.

“It’s always exciting, it’s a new guy every day,” Allen said after the win. “I joked in the locker room this morning and told the guys, ‘Hey, let’s try to win one in regular innings today.’ We didn’t do that but it’s still pretty fun.”

Games 2 and 3 kept up with the exciting trend. ECU won the second game, 3-2, but not before UCF (26-19, 5-10 AAC) made things interesting with a two-run ninth inning.

Akin to Game 1 when the Knights got three runs in the final frame, sending it to extra innings, UCF threatened late, but was unable to tie things up off of ECU closer Joe Ingle.

The trend of late-game mishaps by ECU’s bullpen almost cost the Pirates in the series, including Game 3’s 6-5 win.

Relievers Jimmy Boyd and David Lucroy squandered ECU’s 6-2 lead in the final frame. Holding a one-run lead with two outs, Evan Voliva entered the game and forced a UCF fly out to preserve the win.

“We go to different guys,” coach Cliff Godwin said of his bullpen. “You have to use them in roles that they can have success in. We don’t have [a closer] on the staff this year and that’s okay.”

Contrary to the bullpen’s struggles, quality, starting pitching headlined the exciting weekend, as all three Pirate starters notched quality starts. Evan Kruczynski, Reid Love and Jacob Wolfe all went at least six and two-thirds innings.

Despite allowing just two runs and eight hits, Wolfe fared the worst of the three pitchers.

It wasn’t what Wolfe didn’t do, however, as Kruczynski and Love simply turned in more impressive performances.

The sophomore Kruczynski recorded a seven-inning, 10-strikeout performance during the series-opening game, but went without a decision thanks to UCF’s late-game fury off of the ECU bullpen.

Love’s eight and two-thirds innings were good enough to avoid Kruczynski’s fate. He allowed just six hits off of two runs on his way to punching out nine Knights.

“We have guys that can pitch,” Godwin said. “When they’re all ahead in the count they’re tough.”

Offensively, the Pirates got contributions all over the lineup. Six ECU batters recorded multi-hit performances over the weekend, as well as RBI contributions.

Luke Lowery’s three-run home run in the final game capped his five-RBI homestand, good enough for the team lead despite an 0-for-4 Game 2.

“I’ve been hitting a couple to fence, but it was nice to get [a home run], especially against a team like UCF,” Lowery said. “We tried to come out and pounce on the opposing team early. We had a good approach and squared the ball up.”

In total, the Pirates registered 15 runs in the series off 31 hits, a key factor in counteracting the struggles of the ECU relievers.

The sweep marked the first time since 1998 that the Pirates have swept a nationally ranked team in a three-game series.

With the sweep, the Pirates extended their win streak to six and improved their RPI, along with potentially knocking the Knights out of the national rankings. As the season winds down, the Pirates could look back at this weekend as a key factor in their push for meaningful postseason play.

“We’ve been playing well, but look, the expectations of this program is not to just go 5-0 and beat two ACC teams,” Godwin said. “The expectation is to go to Omaha. Yes, this was a step in the right direction, but we have to continue to put ourselves in a good position to do that.”