Pirates take Tulane rubber match, win consecutive sets

Published 3:22 pm Monday, May 1, 2017

GREENVILLE — Behind Jake Agnos’ longest and arguably best start of his young career at East Carolina, the Pirates earned their second American Athletic Conference series victory this past weekend.

ECU (24-21, 4-11 AAC) and Tulane (22-23, 9-6 AAC) split the first two games of the weekend to set up a decisive game Sunday. Pirates’ head coach Cliff Godwin said he challenged Agnos, and the rest of the team, before the game and it paid big dividends.

“I challenged Jake before the game because, in my opinion, he hasn’t pitched up to what I think he can be,” Godwin said after Sunday’s 5-3 victory. “We needed a start like that from him today because our bullpen was thin. We needed him to go deep and he did.”

Agnos spun a gem as he shut down the Tulane offense over 7 1/3 innings of work, allowing just four hits and one run. Godwin and Agnos both seemed disappointed in the strike zone of the home plate umpire throughout the contest. Agnos finished with five walks. He made up for it though by missing bats and forcing 10 Tulane strikeouts in the contest.

After throwing 108 pitches over the first seven innings, Agnos returned to the mound for the eighth, where he got a quick ground out and walked a batter before he was pulled for Matt Bridges. Overall, the freshman lefty was happy with his performance. After an early mound visit, Agnos knew his head coach was pleased with how he was throwing and that it was only a matter of time before the close pitches would be called strikes.

“(Godwin) just told me to keep doing my thing, I wasn’t missing by much and I was low in the zone,” Agnos said. “I was pumping strikes, and some more that I thought were strikes, but just had to keep doing my thing and eventually good things will happen. Stayed low in the zone and kept attacking the zone.”

While Agnos went to work on the mound, ECU’s offense used two big offensive innings to set the pace.

In the fourth, Eric Tyler, Travis Watkins and Turner Brown each delivered base hits to left field, and Brown’s knock plated Tyler from third. Godwin applauded freshman Bryant Packard, who dropped his first career sacrifice bunt to move Brown into scoring position after his single, and Wes Phillips followed with a two-RBI double to make it 3-1.

That was all the action Tulane starter Sam Bjorngjeld would see. Green Wave reliever Chase Solesky would eventually allow the last two runs of the game.

In the seventh, Spencer Brickhouse led off the inning with a walk and was replaced by Brady Lloyd on the base paths. Bryce Harman followed with a single through the right side. With one out and two in scoring position after a double steal, Charlie Yorgen attempted a suicide squeeze but popped out as Lloyd had to scamper back to first and narrowly beat a tag attempt by Solesky.

That hustle paid off as Tyler followed and delivered a two-out, two-RBI base knock that would turn out to be crucial.

“That’s huge,” Godwin said. “Brady Lloyd steals the back to start with and is able to get back on the squeeze, which was huge. Then, Eric Tyler wouldn’t have driven in those two runs and we would still be playing.”

In the ninth, Matt Bridges ran into trouble and allowed four hits in the frame and two runs came in before a lazy fly out to center field ultimately ended the game and series.

In Friday’s game, ECU used an offensive outburst to anchor a big win. The Pirates plated 15 runs on 14 hits as the middle of the line up went to work. Packard and Watkins each drove in four runs while Tyler and Brown plated a pair each. Evan Kruczynski returned to his Friday-starter role and struggled as he allowed seven runs on eight hits with three walks, though the offense left little pressure on the senior.

Saturday’s game saw the Green Wave jump on ECU starter Trey Benton early as he allowed three first-inning runs before five relievers combined to throw the last five innings of the game. West Covington and Matt Bridges were each charged with a run while Benton took the loss in the middle game of the series.

While ECU’s students take on finals, the baseball team will have the midweek off before returning to action this weekend against South Florida on the road.