SERIES SLIPS BY: ECU drops weekend to last-place Bulls

Published 3:06 pm Monday, May 16, 2016

MICHAEL PRUNKA | DAILY NEWS STRUGGLING: Jacob Wolfe warms up between innings. He struggled through less than five innings of work in Sunday’s rubber-match loss to South Florida.

STRUGGLING: Jacob Wolfe warms up between innings. He struggled through less than five innings of work in Sunday’s rubber-match loss to South Florida.

GREENVILLE — The frustrations of a weekend-long struggle against the American Athletic Conference’s bottom-dwelling team came to a head just before the final out of East Carolina’s series-ending loss to South Florida.

A borderline strike-three call on Travis Watkins with two outs in the ninth yielded a brief argument from the catcher before ECU head coach Cliff Godwin took over and was eventually ejected from the 6-5 loss.

Starter Jacob Wolfe had a tough outing Sunday after a 130-plus pitch complete game victory last week against Connecticut. The junior southpaw lasted just 4 2/3 innings and allowed five runs (three earned) on six hits while walking four batters and hitting one.

“Wolfe wasn’t good, I knew he wasn’t good, he knew he wasn’t good,” Godwin said. “Maybe he was tired a bit last week, but hey, you’re a junior. You’ve got to keep stepping it up. The guys that came in behind him immediately weren’t good enough.”

Wolfe was pulled in favor of Sam Lanier with two runners on in the fifth. Lanier walked the first batter he faced to load the bases. Kevin Merrell followed with a two-RBI double down the right-field line. In the sixth, Chris Holba relieved Lanier and allowed a solo home run to Luke Borders to make it 6-5.

The Pirates scored all five runs in the second inning. Turner Brown led off the inning with a single and Dwanya Williams-Sutton drew a one-out walk. Senior outfielder Garrett Brooks doubled to score the pair and Bryce Harman followed with a two-run homer.

Jeff Nelson scored the last run of the frame after reaching on a hit by pitch. The senior stole second, advanced on a wild pitch and scored on a Parker Lamm groundout to give ECU a 5-1 lead at the time.

“They’re not a bad team at all,” Harman said after Sunday’s loss. “I don’t care if they’re in last place in the conference, they can hit, they made pitches and we didn’t. But at the end of the day, we just have to play better.”

USF starter Brandon Lawson shut down the ECU offense Saturday as he allowed just three hits and one run over eight innings of work while Jimmy Boyd and Joe Ingle struggled through the top of the ninth inning and let a tie game slip away.

A Brown solo home run, his third of the season, tied the game in the seventh inning. After pitching well through eight innings, Boyd lost his control early in the ninth. He struck out the first batter but hit the next two before Ingle was called on out of the bullpen. Borders hit his second of three home runs in the series off Ingle to make it a 4-1 USF lead.

Duke Stunkel Jr. notched a two-out double and Joe Genord followed with an RBI single to plate the final run of the game.

“We get everybody’s best blow every game, no matter who it is,” Godwin said. “South Florida, no offense to them, they can play loose. Our guys are playing to win a conference championship. There’s more pressure and our guys just need to learn to handle it better. I mean, after the second inning, we just didn’t have enough quality at bats.”

Friday brought the lone win of the series for ECU. After a rare poor outing from Evan Kruczynski, who allowed six runs on seven hits over five innings, the ECU offense had 11 consecutive batters reach base in a nine-run sixth inning. The USF pitching staff issued three walks to score runs in the inning. The Pirates and seven hits anchored the inning. All nine spots in the lineup came around to score a run in the inning.

ECU freshmen Turner Brown and Dwanya Williams-Sutton combined to reach base nine times in 11 plate appearances. Brown was 4-for-5 in the game with an RBI.

The Pirates will host senior night Tuesday against Campbell before heading out on the road to face UCF for the last series of the regular season this weekend.