Home runs, an ejection and plenty of jeers from the home crowd inside Clark-LeClair Stadium. Friday’s match-up between Indiana University (5-2, 0-0 Big Ten) and East Carolina University (7-2, 0-0 AAC) had it all. Ultimately an 11-5 Pirate loss to wrap-up the first day of the 17th annual Keith LeClair Classic, ECU was handed its first home loss of the 2020 campaign on the back of a rocky start from junior left-handed pitcher/first baseman Alec Burleson.
“Burly was out of gas, he was on a day short rest because we had to play a doubleheader last weekend,” head coach Cliff Godwin said. “He was giving everything he had, he just didn’t have his stuff and they’re a good offensive team. Give them credit, when we made mistakes on the mound, they made us pay for it.”
Coming off what was perhaps his best start in purple and gold, Burleson was tagged early and often by Indiana’s offense on Friday night. Back-to-back singles greeted the southpaw after he exited the dugout. Those runners later came around to score on a double off the bat of redshirt senior infielder Jordan Fucci, ECU dug itself a 2-0 hole early.
Having previously plated 11 first inning runs over their last four contests heading into Friday, the Pirates were instead retired quietly by sophomore right-handed pitcher Gabe Bierman, Indiana’s starting pitcher for the evening.
Kept off the board in the first inning, ECU would not be denied in the second frame. In three times leading off an inning on Friday, redshirt junior outfielder Christian Smallwood drew two walks and logged a base hit. To lead-off the second inning, Smallwood reached via a free pass and ended up being the first of nine Pirate batters to grace the batter’s box in that half inning.
A RBI single from junior catcher Seth Caddell opened ECU’s scoring while a sacrifice bunt knotted the contest at 2-2. Able to grab the lead on a RBI base knock from freshman infielder Zach Agnos, the Pirates were quick to hand it right back to Indiana in the third inning.
“I felt like they had a good approach off of me,” Burleson said. “They definitely were staying in the middle of the field. It felt like anything I threw up there, whether it was in the zone or outside the zone, they were going to hit. They had a really good offensive day.”
Not able to settle down after a two-run first inning despite retiring Indiana in order an inning prior, Burleson issued a lead-off double and long two-run home run to the first duo of batters in the third.
Likely still in the air, the ball sophomore outfielder Grant Richardson sent over the trees in right field sling-shot the Hoosiers back in front. Just five batters later, however, Indiana’s advantage expanded. A double that was actually a rocket of a ground ball off the ECU second baseman, freshman Indiana outfielder Hunter Jessee staked his club to a 6-3 lead.
“They had a lead the whole game, our guys battled,” head coach Cliff Godwin said. “We were in the game until we gave up the home run late. They got a really good pitching staff, which I talked about pregame and you got to be within striking distance just to be able to scratch and claw.”
Clearly not in possession of his best stuff, Burleson was pulled without a chance to finish the third inning. Not long removed from tossing eight innings of two-hit baseball and needing only 81 pitches to do so, the southpaw used up 55 pitches to get eight outs.
His shortest outing of the 2020 campaign, Burleson set new career-highs in hits allowed with eight and earned runs allowed with six. That latter mark, which usurped the four runs he allowed against the University of Cincinnati in 2018, ended up being the nail in the coffin for the Pirates on Friday.
Still with six innings to play after Indiana took control of the game, ECU could never quite overcome their deficit on the evening.
A two out rally in the fourth inning brought the Pirates within a run. Back-to-back infield hits, the second of which came courtesy of the Hoosiers second baseman’s inability to get the ball out of his glove in time, allowed ECU to move runners to second and third.
Able plate both of those runs, ECU drew within a single tally, the closest they would get. In the fifth and again in the seventh inning, Indiana notched RBI base hits, stretching the lead to 8-5 in favor of the visiting squad.
Before a three-run eighth inning home run could break the game open, the Pirates mounted one final rally in the sixth. With the score still standing at 7-5 Hoosiers, ECU put back-to-back runners on base with one out. Similar to the fourth inning, the Pirates got men on base without a ball leaving the infield.
Unlike the fourth, however, the Pirates would walk away empty handed as they lost their manager to ejection. Tossed for arguing balls and strikes, Godwin was removed from the game ahead of Burleson’s two out at-bat.
Still sporting runners on first and second, a base hit had a good chance of cutting Indiana’s lead to one. Instead, Burleson struck out looking despite his manager’s best efforts to fire his team up.
“We barreled up balls a lot tonight,” Agnos said. “Burly barreled up a few. It’s just one of those days that the ball is not falling, the other team is barreling up balls and it’s finding the right spots. We’re going to get ourselves to sleep, we’re going to get a good meal and we’re going to wake up and realize tomorrow is a new day.”
A patchwork of ECU relievers followed Burleson’s performance on the mound. Freshman infielder Skylar Brooks worked a scoreless fourth inning after shifting over from his first base position. Sophomore right-handed pitcher Garrett Saylor allowed an inherited runner to score in the fifth inning, but otherwise worked a clean 1.2 innings.
On the flip side, three Pirate relievers issued runs, with the big blow coming courtesy of an Indiana three-run home run off junior right-handed pitcher Trystan Kimmel. That long ball off the bat of junior infielder/outfielder Drew Ashley made the score 11-5 in favor of Indiana and capped the scoring for either side on Friday.
All told, the Pirates were out-hit 15-9 and left a total of nine runners on base across nine innings. While they did collect four hits in 11 at-bats with runners in scoring position, Indiana logged six hits in that situation and went 9-for-21 with runners on base.
Agnos and sophomore outfielder Lane Hoover each logged two hits while four different Pirates recorded an RBI. While nine hits usually puts a team in position to win most nights, ECU struck out 14 times on Friday versus just four walks.
“We just play our brand of baseball,” Burleson said. “Yeah we had one bad game but we’re still the ECU Pirates and we’re still going to play like the Pirates. I’m not worried about the guys, we normally bounce back good after a tough loss. We know what we need to get better at and that’s what we’re going to do.”
The Pirates will be back in action on Saturday when they face the University of Mississippi (8-1, 0-0 SEC) on the second day of the Keith LeClair Classic.