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Pirates share Keith LeClair Classic title in annual tournament

GREENVILLE — East Carolina welcomed Utah, Wright State and Western Carolina to the 16th annual Keith LeClair Classic this past weekend, where it defeated WCU, 12-6, Sunday to push its weekend record to 2-1 for a share of the tournament title with Utah and Wright State. The Pirates dropped their lone game to the Rowdy Raiders, while Wright State fell to the Utes, and subsequently Utah fell in extra innings to ECU.

ECU (8-4) got its second win of the tournament, which is played to honor former Pirate head coach LeClair who passed away in 2006 from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, by six runs against WCU (5-5). But not all came easy in a high-scoring game, as a scary sixth inning for the Catamounts pulled the game within one run.

Starting ECU pitcher Tyler Smith was on a roll, allowing just two runs through five innings and tossing a pair of strikeouts. When he came back out for the sixth however, his earned runs quickly jumped to five before being pulled for Sam Lanier, who lasted just one inning. Lanier gave up a three-run home run before he was pulled in favor of Jake Kuchmaner.

“To be honest with you, I thought our team felt like there was something else bad that was going to happen after the home run. But Kuchmaner came in and changed the momentum of the game. That allowed us to get our feet underneath us and we were able to execute really well,” said ECU head coach Cliff Godwin, who wears LeClair’s old number. “I thought when Kuchmaner came in, the momentum of the game changed.”

With the game at 7-6 in ECU’s favor upon stepping on to the mound, Kuchmaner worked 31 pitches across seven batters in two complete innings and allowed no runs and no hits. Zach Barnes relieved Kuchmaner in the top of the ninth to finish out the game that now saw a six-run differential.

“Whatever I can do to change momentum to bring energy back on our side, that’s what I’m trying to do,” Kuchmaner said. “Work fast, fill up the zone and hopefully get some outs quick, that’s our game plan.”

Bryant Packard lead ECU in the game, going 4-for-5, crossing home plate four times and picking up one RBI of his own. He teamed with Spencer Brickhouse and Alec Burleson, who had three and two hits, respectively, to account for nine of the Pirates’ 13 hits.

ECU’s lone tournament loss came in a 12-4 defeat Saturday to arguably the best NCAA opponent the Pirates have faced this season in Wright State (4-4). Starting ECU pitcher Jake Agnos was dealt the loss when he gave up four runs in the top of the second, yet stayed in the game until two outs in the fifth. He saw another run cross the plate before being pulled, but ECU’s first of two errors on the day gave it an unearned ruling. A shaky ECU bullpen surrendered seven more runs on seven hits, including six in the seventh.

The Pirates’ tournament opener ended in dramatic fashion on a walk-off against Utah (5-5) in the first extra inning game the team has played since 2017, giving ECU a 7-6 win in 10 innings Saturday afternoon. With the bases loaded, Dusty Baker hit an RBI single to center field on the first pitch to score Christian Jayne. Jayne was used as a base runner after Burleson lead off the extra frame with a double, followed by a Washer walk and a Giles intentional walk to bring Baker to the plate. Burleson continued his hot streak and went 3-for-6 in the game, while Lane Hoover was also on fire, going 3-for-4 with a walk. Bryson Worrell and Turner Brown also had multiple hits for ECU, which put up a tournament-high 16 hits throughout the game.

The Pirates will make a Mississippi mid-week road trip where they’ll find themselves up against Mississippi State (10-1) tomorrow before playing Ole Miss (8-2) Wednesday. Both games are slated for 4:30 p.m. starts.