Around 4 p.m. on Friday, the sound of aluminum striking leather could be heard emanating from Clark-Leclair Stadium in Greenville, North Carolina. In some of the last rounds of batting practice before the East Carolina University baseball team participated in its first intra-squad scrimmage of the fall, junior left-handed pitcher/first baseman Alec Burleson was putting on a show.
For five or six swings in a row, Burleson barreled the baseball up, sending it flying in all directions over the diamond. In one instance, the All-American candidate clubbed two baseballs into the trees situated well behind the right field fence. In another instance, Burleson could be seen pointing to center field with his bat, almost as to say “I’m going to hit it there,” just to follow with a frozen rope in that same direction one batted ball later.
Burleson staked his claimed as one of the best two-way players in NCAA baseball last season. On the mound, the left-hander made 24 appearances (nine starts) and posted a 6-2 record with a 3.28 ERA across 60.1 innings pitched. That mark placed him fifth on the team while his .370 batting average paced the Pirates’ offense.
While Burleson was an integral part of ECU’s Super Regional bound team last season, he had plenty of help. Names like Bryant Packard, Spencer Brickhouse and Jake Agnos helped pave the way to the Pirates’ 47-18 record, but all three will be in major league organizations next year while their old team welcomes a fresh crop of recruits for the 2020 season.
This year’s class is made up of 20 players (12 pitchers) and has been ranked the 40th best in the nation by Collegiate Baseball. In six innings on Friday, members of that class took to the diamond competitively for the first time as Pirates.
Divided into purple and gold squads, no formal score was kept, but a tally was dictated by head coach Cliff Godwin and his coaching staff. Every time a player or a team did something positive like hustle down the line, show intensity in the dugout, make a good defensive play, etc., their team would be awarded a point, or five, or ten.
Junior left-handed pitcher Jake Kuchmaner was the first on the mound for the purple team, his first appearance in Clark-Leclair Stadium since he had a historic sophomore campaign. In 17 appearances last season (14 starts), Kuchmaner posted a sub-3.00 ERA and a 7-2 record across 87.1 innings pitched. While impressive, his perfect game against the University of Maryland on March 17 was historic as it became the first in program history.
On Friday, no perfect games were thrown as sophomore outfielder Lane Hoover doubled into the left field corner, garnering cheers from the first base dugout, home to the gold team.
🚨🚨The P.I.R.A.T.E.S have their first scrimmages of the fall this Friday, Saturday, and Sunday! pic.twitter.com/H8QkaLzsFf— ECU Baseball (@ECUBaseball) September 25, 2019
As the scrimmage progressed, coach Godwin, as well as members of his staff, stopped action from time-to-time to critique certain actions they did not like. Conversely, when players hustled down the line, a coach would shout out “one point gold, hustle 90.” Every move the players made, coach Godwin encouraged them to do it quickly, hoping to instill a sense of hustle and intensity in a new group of players.
Junior left-handed pitcher Elijah Gill worked a couple innings for the gold squad, showing off, at times, good off-speed and breaking offerings. Gill is a transfer from St. John’s River Community College in Florida and figures to be an impactful arm if he can continue to impress ECU’s coaching staff this fall.
On the other side in the purple dugout, freshman right-hander Parker Boyle was tabbed to work a few frames. At 6-4, Boyle is one of the taller Pirate pitchers and has two years of junior college experience under his belt. In his sophomore campaign at the lower level, Boyle posted a 3.84 ERA and racked up 75 strikeouts in 61 innings pitched.
Other freshmen like catcher Justin Wilcoxen, infielder/outfielder Alec Makarewicz and infielder/right-handed pitcher Zach Agnos received looks in the scrimmage and contributed both offensively and defensively.
Zach is the younger brother of Jake Agnos, the left-handed pitcher who broke two records with 145 strikeouts in 102 innings pitched during his junior season. Working out of the rotation for the entirety of the year, Jake held opposing batters to a .198 batting average and logged a 2.29 ERA, leading to him being drafted by the New York Yankees in the fourth round of the MLB draft in June.
Donning Jake’s old number 14, Zach is tasked with carrying on the Agnos name in Greenville. Unlike his brother, Zach is right-handed and plays the infield, but he has also been known to be pretty successful on the mound. In his senior season at Battlefield highschool in Virginia, Zach posted an 8-3 record and a 1.78 ERA, while at the same time amassing a .436 batting average.
On Friday, Zach was stationed at shortstop and took a handful of at-bats, often working on the fundamentals of bunting.
Like in early-season scrimmage, sloppy play was abundant as a number of throws got past defenders. Nevertheless, the Pirates have plenty of time to clean up their play with the regular season not beginning until February.
This fall, however, the baseball team will participate in a six-week practice schedule. That includes intra-squad scrimmages every Friday, Saturday and Sunday in preparation for the Purple-Gold World Series from Nov. 1-3. In addition to that annual event, the Pirates will play two scrimmages against other teams.
On Oct 13, ECU will travel to the University of Virginia for an exhibition game and return home on Oct. 20 to scrimmage Liberty University. A time for the Purple-Gold World Series has yet to be determined, but the event is free to fans.