For the first time in 2020, the East Carolina University (3-0, 0-0 AAC) baseball team broke out the brooms and managed to sweep the College of William & Mary (0-3, 0-0 CAA). After taking the first two games by a combined score of 13-4, the Pirates defeated the Tribe 7-4 on Sunday.
“Any time you can sweep, it’s a big deal,” head coach Cliff Godwin said. “It’s really tough to win college baseball games. I know that all the fans think we should win every game but you look across the country...anybody can beat anybody on any given day. I thought we had to scratch and claw today to kind of grind it out.”
3⃣⬆️3⃣⬇️Make that a Pirate SWEEP on Opening Weekend! pic.twitter.com/xPPMhrnElK— ECU Baseball (@ECUBaseball) February 16, 2020
The Pirates started off the game hot, notching three runs on five hits. Leadoff man, freshman infielder Zach Agnos, kick started the offense with a single to right field.
With runners on first and third, the Pirates were able to string together consecutive first pitch singles by junior left-handed pitcher/first baseman Alec Burleson and sophomore infielder Thomas Francisco to drive in the first two runs of the game.
The third inning looked promising as the Pirates opened the bottom half with Burleson reaching first after being hit by a pitch, followed by Francisco drawing the walk. With no outs and runners on first and second, the Pirates’ sophomore infielder Connor Norby placed down a well executed sacrifice bunt to advance both runners. Now with one out and two runners in scoring position, junior catcher Seth Caddell hit into a fielder’s choice, knocking in Burleson to put the Pirates up 4-0.
After letting up two runs to the Tribe, the Pirates would strike again in the bottom of the sixth with a no out, solo bomb to left field off the bat of Norby, his first home run of the season, to make the score 5-2 Pirates.
“They (the players) showed up with intent and energy everyday and really competed,” Godwin said. “William & Mary was scrappy.”
An inning later, the Pirates showed off their offense once again scoring two runs on four hits, with senior infielder Nick Barber leading off the inning with a single. Agnos would then hit into a double play, but the Pirates were not done there. East Carolina would rally with two outs in the seventh, with Francisco and Norby both driving in runs to make the score 7-2.
With a quick three-spot serving as run support, the Pirates’ pitching staff reeled off its third consecutive solid outing. On a pitch count after dealing with off-season shoulder soreness, junior left-handed pitcher Jake Kuchmaner kicked off the day with two solid innings.
“Just getting back in the rhythm,” Kuchmaner said. “Second time I’ve been on the mound all spring. Me and coach (Dietrich) just finding our flow and rhythm and everything and then get back into it.”
Displaying a bit of rust, the southpaw tossed 31 pitches across his seven batters faced while striking out a pair of Tribe hitters. A lead-off walk to junior first baseman Tyler Solomon was quickly erased by two fly outs and Kuchmaner’s second punch out of the afternoon.
Tasked with eating seven innings in the left-hander’s absence, the Pirates’ bullpen stepped up to the challenge, yielding four runs to William & Mary.
Setting the tone with his early strikeouts, Kuchmaner watched from the dugout as the parade of pitchers after him recorded the remaining 21 outs necessary for victory.
Junior right-handed pitcher Trystan Kimmel entered and struck out the side in the third inning. Making his second appearance of the weekend, the junior college transfer displayed an electric fastball in the lower-90’s. Perhaps most impressively, however, was his off-speed deliveries. Sitting at 81 MPH, Kimmel used the pitch to retire the first four batters he faced via strikeout.
Trotted back out for a second inning, Kimmel began showing kinks in his armor. A one-out triple off the bat of sophomore utility player Matt Thomas broke the Tribe into the hit column while Solomon’s RBI single ended ECU’s shutout hopes on Sunday.
Still up 4-1, however, the Pirates called upon redshirt senior right-handed pitcher Matt Bridges to clean up an inning that had spiraled into a bases loaded situation.
Bridges punched out senior catcher/first baseman Matthew Trehub swinging to end the frame, representing the first of three tight ropes ECU’s bullpen walked in the evening. Just an inning later, with Bridges struggling, sophomore right-handed pitcher Garrett Saylor entered with runners on base and the game hanging in a 4-2 balance.
Saylor sat down sophomore infielder Cole Ragone to end the threat while sophomore infielder Ryder Giles followed a similar approach two frames later.
Tabbed with a 5-2 advantage, Saylor worked himself into trouble by walking the lead-off hitter in the seventh. An infield hit and another walk later, the Pirates were facing a bases loaded situation with a potential go-ahead run at the plate.
Instead of turning to his bullpen, Godwin turned to his infield and shortstop Giles. The first of his two pitching appearances of the evening, Giles struck out both Solomon and Ragone swinging to pick Saylor and the Pirates up and finish the seventh.
“I guarantee you that we have more two-way players than any other team in the country,” Godwin said. “When other teams recruit other players, like ‘yeah we’ll let you be a two-way player,’ and then you look up three years later and they’re just doing one thing. Well actually at East Carolina, you get to do both.”
Now this is where things get interesting. In the eighth, Godwin once again pulled the two-way string, calling on freshman infielder Zach Agnos to work out of a jam. After Giles yielded three consecutive singles, Agnos took to the mound. A regular on the rubber in high school, the younger of the Agnos brothers quickly recorded two outs.
A walk to the two-hole hitter, however, ended his day on the mound as he shifted back to third base and Giles retook his place on the bump. Just three batters after going back to his shortstop position, Giles froze Solomon looking to post the Pirates’ 16th strikeout of the day.
“What Ryder and Zach did and Burly did this weekend, you just don’t see that in college baseball,” Godwin said. “Ryder was really interesting to be able to bring him back in and he got us out of two bases loaded jams, so that was huge.”
More importantly, Giles preserved a 7-4 ECU advantage, an edge they would hold for the final inning and a half.
All told, six pitchers combined to eat the seven innings Kuchmaner left on the table. Bridges, Kimmel, Saylor, Giles, Agnos and redshirt senior right-handed pitcher Cam Colmore combined for 15 strikeouts across 36 batters. Giles finished the contest having been tabbed with two earned runs, while Kimmel (one run) and Bridges (one run) also yielded runs.
Nevertheless being charged with four runs on the evening, ECU’s bullpen worked out of multiple jams that had chances to change the outcome of Sunday’s contest.
“I thought we played a lot of good baseball, there’s some things we can clean up and some better base running stuff,” Godwin said. “But other than that, I thought our guys played hard and played with a ton of energy and competed all weekend.”
The Pirates will be back in action on Wednesday when they travel to Buies Creek, North Carolina to face Campbell University (1-2, 0-0 Big South). First pitch is scheduled for 5 p.m.