The ECU baseball team lost its first series of the year to drop out of the nation’s top ten

Published 8:19 pm Monday, April 16, 2018

East Carolina University’s status as the seventh-ranked team in the nation lasted only a week, as the Pirates dropped two out of three games at home to the University of South Florida for their first series loss of the 2018 baseball season this past weekend.

No. 12 ECU started the series off strong with a 15-2 victory on Friday. The Pirates’ bats were hot all night long, unfazed by USF’s ace Shane McClanahan. ECU finished Friday’s game with 17 hits, while driving in 15 runs. Designated hitter Bryant Packard led the way with five RBI on 3-for-4 hitting, including two home runs.

“I thought we were locked in the entire night and put together some really good at-bats against a good pitcher,” ECU head coach Cliff Godwin said. “We kept our calm, got some guys on base and then [Nick] Barber walked to score a run and Packard cleared the bases with a double in the inning.”

USF looked to be in control of Friday’s game one behind the pitching of McClanahan, but an injury limited his time on the mound. The injury came after McClanahan picked up three quick outs in the first frame.

The Bulls’ starting pitcher lasted just three total innings, after straining his Achilles while taking an awkward step on the mound early in the bottom of the second. After the first inning, the left-hander gave up four hits and six earned runs in his two remaining frames, before not returning for the bottom of the fourth. It was his shortest outing of the season.

Right fielder Garrett Zech’s second inning home run gave USF an early 1-0, but the Pirates responded abruptly. ECU second baseman Nick Barber started the scoring for the Pirates in the bottom of the second by earning a bases-loaded walk. Packard then came inches away from a grand slam. He looked to be robbed at the wall, but the ball bounced off of the Bulls’ outfielder’s glove, resulting in a bases-clearing double.

ECU added two more runs in the third and the fourth, before USF finally answered with a run of its own in the sixth. But ECU continued pouring on the runs, scoring five more in the eighth to put the game well beyond the Bulls’ reach.

Pirate pitcher Chris Holba worked through six innings to pick up the win, allowing nine hits and two earned runs on the day. McClanahan took the loss for USF.

Game two of the series almost mirrored game one’s action exactly, but with the opposite team on top. USF won Saturday’s contest 13-1 and limited ECU to just five hits on the day.

Bulls’ pitcher Peter Strzelecki went the distance, pitching a complete game on 112 pitches. The redshirt senior added four strikeouts in the contest as he picked up his sixth win of the season.

“We knew they would respond after last night. Strzelecki had a tremendous performance for them and I think he is their best pitcher in terms of going out there and knowing what he is doing in attacking hitters the way he wants to,” Godwin said.

Tyler Smith earned the loss for the Pirates on an uncharacteristically short outing, only lasting three innings. He gave up three runs (two earned) on seven hits, while facing just 16 batters.

USF started Saturday’s game off strong, scoring three runs in the first. The Bulls’ first baseman Joe Genord started the scoring with a single, bringing home shortstop Coco Montes. DH Chris Chatfield’s RBI groundout then scored third baseman David Villar. USF capped off the inning with second baseman JD Dutka reaching on an infield single, thanks to a fielding error by ECU’s Turner Brown.

The Pirates scored their only run in the third, thanks to a Brown home run. But unfortunately for ECU, USF responded with three home runs of its own. Genord hit a two-run homer in the seventh, followed by a two-run home run from Montes in the eight and a three-run home run in the ninth, courtesy of Montes. The Bulls tacked on three more runs in the top of the ninth, finishing off their revenge game to even the series.

“It’s tough once you get down three, but once we got down more than three it was going to be hard to try and manufacture runs,” Godwin said.

In a bright spot for ECU on the day, Packard extended his on-base streak to 17 games, and would move that number up to 18 in Sunday’s series finale, as well as move his hitting streak to 13 games.

Sunday’s rubber match was a tightly contested affair that saw both teams register 10 hits, but the Bulls just edged it out 5-4. Villar’s solo home run in the seventh ended up being the game-winning run for USF, as ECU’s comeback fell one run short when it came within one in the bottom of the eighth.

“We liked our chances late in the game, but their closer [Andrew Perez] is really good. It was tough to get one run against him and he was out there for two innings,” Godwin said. “We didn’t play quite well today all around, not just offensively, pitching or on defense and they played well enough to win.”

Pirates’ second baseman/center fielder Brady Lloyd went 3-for-5 on the day and helped start ECU’s outburst of runs in the third with a two-out double. Lloyd scored when Jake Washer blasted a three-run home run.

After USF opened the scoring for the third straight game of the series, it responded with two more runs in the fourth to take the lead for good.

Starter Trey Benton took the loss for the Pirates, which dropped him below .500 on the season (4-5). The sophomore gave up four runs on four hits in 3.1 innings pitched.

Relief pitcher Alec Wisely picked up the win for USF. Wisely lasted 2.2 innings and allowed no runs on two hits, while striking out six of the 11 batters he faced.

ECU is now 4-10 under Godwin against USF all-time and now sits below the Bulls in the conference standings. After the weekend, USF has a 7-5 American Athletic Conference record, while ECU stands at 6-3.

The Pirates (26-9) will look to avoid jumping into the double-digit loss column when they play No. 3 Duke University today at 6 p.m.