ECU seeks to level record in return to Greenville

Published 4:25 pm Thursday, February 23, 2017

GREENVILLE — Following a four-game road swing during which the Pirates won just one game, East Carolina’s baseball team returns home for a weekend series against La Salle, hoping to earn a sweep and get over .500.

“We’re very excited,” said head coach Cliff Godwin. “We’re glad to be home after being on the road, and it’s always good to come back and play in front of the fans.”

ECU started the season with four straight road games, including a season-opening sweep at the hands of Ole Miss. The Pirates lost the three-game series by a combined four runs. Though still 1-3, a less than ideal record for head coach Cliff Godwin and his group, the 10-0 win over the Camels was a decidedly positive step in the right direction.

Now, the Pirates will have a chance to even their record against the 0-4 Explorers, who are fresh off a dismal weekend during which they were outscored 33-13. For ECU, the matchup against La Salle, which went 15-39 last season, represents a prime opportunity to pick up a series win before the Keith LeClair Classic kicks off next weekend.

Seniors Travis Watkins and Evan Kruczynski know the Ole Miss sweep put their group in an early hole. Still, the catcher-pitcher duo knows that a strong performance in Friday’s Game 1 could set the tone for a should-be series win.

“I’m going to have the same mentality I had last week,” said Kruczynski. “I threw a lot of pitches and let the defense do the work. That’s the pitcher I’ve always been. I don’t want to change from that no matter the opponent. I have to do a better job of striking guys out or getting softer contact.”

Though Kruczynski and fellow senior Jacob Wolfe are known commodities on the mound and slated to pitch in the first two games, last week’s Game 3 starter, freshman Trey Benton, struggled and failed to get out of the second inning.

Perhaps it was first-game jitters against a solid Rebels team, but Benton had a hard time figuring out the Ole Miss lineup. By the time it was all said and done, he had allowed two runs on four hits and two walks through 1.2 innings. Still, Godwin confirmed that he would stick with the same rotation as last week.

“I think this is the deepest staff we’ve ever had from top to bottom,” Watkins said. “We have a weekend staff, a bullpen, midweek guys. We have a nice blend of young guys and old guys, and the young guys have definitely learned a lot.”

Offensively, the Pirates broke out against Campbell, notching 10 runs on 10 hits. Junior TJ Riles had an exceptional game of his own as he drove in four runs thanks on two hits, including an icebreaking home run.

But it’s not just Riles who’s producing early for the Pirates. So far, seven ECU hitters have registered a RBI, and four different Pirates have home runs.

La Salle Friday starter Luke Reilly had a strong outing against Butler, allowing just three hits and no runs during a seven-strikeout effort. The starters for the Explorers have struggled beyond him. Expected Saturday pitcher Jared Mattera lasted just 3.1 innings and allowed five runs, three of which were earned against Ohio. Sunday starter true freshman C.J. Pruitt, fared about as well as Mattera, allowing five runs through four innings.

If last week’s pitching performances are any indication, Friday’s game could be a pitcher’s duel. But from there, ECU’s offense has a good chance to keep things going following the outbreak against Campbell.

“We just have to play our style,” Watkins said. “It doesn’t matter who we’re playing. We just have to be the best version of ourselves possible. We’ve had to make adjustments, things aren’t always going to go our way, but we have to figure out a way to win games.”

The Pirates may be without outfielder Dwanya Williams-Sutton after he injured himself sliding into second against Campbell. Godwin was mum on his potential return but his absence would be a hit to the Pirate offense.

First pitch on Friday is scheduled for 4 p.m.