baseball

Junior Bryson Worrell steps up to bat during a previous game this season. 

Two weekend series sweeps and a solid mid-week win has the East Carolina University (7-1, 0-0 AAC) baseball team in a great position heading into the 17th annual Keith LeClair Classic. Beginning on Friday, the Pirates will face three challenging opponents on a trio of consecutive days, culminating in a top-20 match-up with the University of Mississippi on Saturday.

“You go day-by-day and you worry about Indiana first and then once you get through that game, you worry about Ole Miss and once you get through that game, you worry about High Point,” head coach Cliff Godwin said. “The unique thing is you can scout them a little bit when they’re playing because you’re not playing.”

Before the Pirates face Indiana University (4-2, 0-0 Big Ten) on Friday, however, here are some mid-week news and notes surrounding ECU.

Colmore goes four innings

In relief of junior right-handed pitcher Trystan Kimmel who opened Tuesday’s match-up with Elon University (6-2, 0-0 CAA), redshirt senior right-handed pitcher Cam Colmore turned a bullpen day into his longest outing since 2016. Spanning four innings, Colmore’s performance matched a career-high set nearly four years ago during his freshman campaign.

“Super proud of him,” Godwin said. “Couldn’t be happier for a human being more than Cam. A guy that’s from Greenville, North Carolina, is in his fifth year, has paid his dues, has worked his tail off. It doesn’t always work out that way but he had a ton of success yesterday.”

More impressive than the sheer length, Colmore did not allow Elon a baserunner, instead sitting all 12 batters he faced down in order while mixing in three strikeouts.

Worrell, Burleson named to AAC Honor Roll

A week of strong offensive performances earned junior outfielder Bryson Worrell his first American Athletic Conference Honor Roll selection of the 2020 season. Over .500 in the Pirates’ four games last week, Worrell smashed a long first inning home run in game two of Sunday’s doubleheader before connecting on a three-run shot against Elon on Tuesday.

“Dating back to probably a year ago, he really learned how to work consistently,” Godwin said of Worrell. “A lot of times the hard work doesn’t show up immediately, the results of it. He’s been consistent in his approach. I thought early, he pressed a little bit and tried to do more than what he needed to do in those first few games.”

Across his last five games, Worrell is hitting .600 with two home runs, seven RBI and three doubles. On the season, the junior is slashing .444/.515/.778 primarily out of the five-hole in Godwin’s lineup.

With eight stellar innings on the mound against Georgia Southern University (3-4, 0-0 Sun Belt) on Saturday, junior left-handed pitcher/first baseman Alec Burleson found himself alongside Worrell on the conference honor roll. Scattering just two hits and striking out seven batters in his second outing of the year, Burleson now leads the team in innings pitched with 15 and strikeouts with 13.

Still work to do offensively

Described as “still a work in progress” by Godwin after Tuesday’s contest, the Pirates’ offense has been somewhat up-and-down through eight games. Noticeably absent on some days just to show up and plate 10 runs to close out a series, ECU’s offense, much like its team in general, is filled with young guys still trying to find their way.

“It’s guys growing up a little bit,” Godwin said. “There’s no substitute for just going out there and playing. I think (freshman) Zach Agnos has handled himself like an upperclassman. The guy puts together quality at-bats, plays his tail off at third base, super savvy player. We just need (Lane) Hoover and Burly to get back to being themselves and not putting too much pressure on themselves.”

Nevertheless, after a seven-run showing on Tuesday, ECU is now slashing .290/.368/.393 as a team. In both batting average and on-base percentage, the Pirates pace the conference despite that self-described room to grow still lingering in the background.

Pitching carrying the Pirates

Less than stellar performances by the offense have been overshadowed by the sheer dominance of ECU’s pitching staff. On display during Tuesday’s 7-2 win, the Pirates’ staff owns a 2.47 ERA through eight games.

Anchored by guys like Burleson and senior right-handed pitcher Tyler Smith in the rotation and Colmore and freshman left-handed pitcher C.J. Mayhue in the bullpen, the Pirates have allowed only 21 runs (20 earned runs) at this point in the year.

“Anytime you can go out there and pitch with a lead it’s just easier to execute pitches,” Godwin said. “For the guys to be able to put up some runs in the first inning, it’s just made it easier for the pitching. But our pitching has been, they’ve pitched it crucial situations.”

With scoreless outings again on Tuesday, Colmore and Mayhue have yet to surrender an earned run, instead pitching 14 combined innings with just a single unearned run allowed. In that span, that duo yielded a combined four hits while striking out 16 batters versus five walks.

Weekend rotation

A big match-up with Ole Miss on Saturday prompted many to wonder if Godwin would shuffle his starting rotation to line up Burleson for that game. On Wednesday, however, the Pirates’ skipper confirmed he would be keeping his rotation in order with Burleson throwing on Friday, Smith on Saturday and junior left-handed pitcher Jake Kuchmaner on Sunday.

Godwin also confirmed Kuchmaner will still be on a pitch count as he continues to work back from preseason shoulder soreness. In his last outing, the southpaw tossed 46 pitches over three innings in a 10-2 ECU win.

As for junior right-handed pitcher Gavin Williams, Godwin said there was an “outside chance” the injured starter would throw an inning on Sunday. Still recovering from a finger injury sustained toward the end of spring scrimmages, Williams will be a welcomed returner to the rotation once he is healthy.

17th Keith LeClair Classic

Played every year since 2004 to honor the coaching legacy of former Pirate head coach Keith LeClair, the tournament will feature Indiana, Ole Miss and High Point University (5-4, 0-0 Big South) in addition to the host school, ECU. The Pirates have not won the weekend tournament outright since 2017 after winning the LeClair Classic five straight times from 2013-2017.

With a 212-96-1 record in five seasons helming the Pirates, Keith LeClair is the second-winningest coach in ECU baseball history. After his diagnosis with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), LeClair was forced to give up his coaching duties in 2002 and eventually passed away in July of 2006.

His No. 23, now worn by Godwin, became an honorary jersey in 2003 and was donned by a player that best embodied LeClair’s qualities each year. In 2014, Godwin began wearing his former manager’s number and has worn it ever since.

The LeClair Classic gets underway for the Pirates on Friday with the first pitch against Indiana scheduled for 4:30 p.m.

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