Having outscored its opponents 57-11 over a five-game win streak prior to Tuesday night, the East Carolina University (13-3, 0-0 AAC) baseball team has not done much playing from behind lately. After a weekend road sweep, however, the Pirates were tasked with digging themselves out of a hole against Elon University (7-10, 0-0 CAA) in an eventual 7-4 victory.
“You don’t plan to get down obviously in a game but thought our guys were very composed, I thought Cam Colmore came in and swung the momentum,” head coach Cliff Godwin said to Gary Overton on the radio post game. “Offensively, I thought we hit some balls hard early but didn’t have anything to show for it. Got a lot of runners on with two outs and just couldn’t push through, but guys kept scratching and clawing and did a really good job.”
Running their win streak to six games, the Pirates have now won nine games in a row over Elon after pulling off the comeback in Clark-LeClair Stadium to begin a five-game week.
That's ball game. Pirates extend their winning streak to six games. pic.twitter.com/ZGnd5U6urW— ECU Baseball (@ECUBaseball) March 11, 2020
By Godwin’s own admission, mid-week games can be tricky, especially with the staff days so many collegiate programs rely on for non-weekend contests. Tabbing junior left-handed pitcher Elijah Gill for his second start and fourth overall appearance, Godwin and his staff would once lean heavily on his ‘A’ guys out of the bullpen on Tuesday.
A strong first frame from Gill in which he struck out the side looking floated the idea the southpaw might be extended to a season-high three innings of work. Unable to make it out of the second inning in his initial outing of the 2020 campaign, Gill once again had problems with the second frame.
Quickly with two outs sandwiched around a free pass, Gill was presented with a clear path to getting out of the inning. Instead, junior infielder Jack Roberts was hit with a curveball from Gill’s left hand, setting up a big inning for Elon.
Three straight singles later, and Elon was sporting a 3-0 lead, good enough to chase Gill from the game after only 39 pitches (21 strikes). Really good through his initial inning, Gill seemed to fade quickly in the second and was pulled following a two-run single that cemented Elon’s control of the game in the early-going.
With momentum swung fully in Elon’s favor, Godwin once again called upon redshirt senior right-handed pitcher Cam Colmore to settle down opponents’ bats and that he did. Across 3.1 frames, the right-hander yielded just two hits while striking out two batters and plunking a pair of hitters.
In command of a full array of off-speed and breaking balls, Colmore induced six ground balls off Elon batters’ bats while pumping in 29 strikes on 46 total pitches. More than just calming down Elon’s offense, Colmore provided a path for Godwin to save his bullpen. Despite getting only five outs from his starter, Godwin needed only three relievers to keep Elon off-balance as the Pirates’ bats woke up in the latter innings.
Racking up a number of two-out hits through three innings, a speciality that was perfected over the weekend against Charlotte University (8-8, 0-0 C-USA), the Pirates were able to punch through a run in the third frame. Courtesy of a RBI double off the bat of junior catcher Seth Caddell, the Pirates grabbed back a piece of the momentum with a four-hit inning that ultimately resulted in their first run of the day.
Still in need of two more runs to climb back into the contest, ECU rode a lead-off double from junior outfielder Bryson Worrell to sling-shot to the lead. Run-scoring hits from sophomore infielder Connor Norby and sophomore infielder Ryder Giles plated a trio of runs with the latter scoring two by itself.
“Norbs has done a really good job.” Godwin said to Overton post game. “He’s got as quick of hands of anybody I’ve ever coached. We’ve talked to him about just using the whole field and slowing the game down. Man he’s really played well for a couple weeks now and he’s played outstanding defense, but a lot of quality at-bats.”
Norby and Giles, who went a combined 9-for-22 against the 49ers over the weekend, racked up four total hits on Tuesday, including three from Norby alone. As Norby nears a .400 batting average on the year, junior left-handed pitcher/first baseman Alec Burleson eclipsed that mark with his solo home run in the seventh inning.
Across 12 at-bats over the weekend, Burleson racked up nine hits, turning his slow start at the plate on its head. Now with long balls in back-to-back games, Burleson is hitting an even .400 following a 2-for-3 effort and two walks against Elon on Tuesday.
Burleson’s home run extended ECU’s lead to 5-3 in the seventh frame, giving the home squad an important insurance run in the late innings. Just a half frame later, that importance would be fully recognized as senior infielder Joe Satterfield made it a one-run game with a solo home run of his own.
Staked to a slim 5-4 advantage, the Pirates did what they do so well; add on. On the back of a lead-off walk and an error on Elon’s pitcher, the Pirates were able to tack on a pair of runs in their last at-bat of the evening. Set up with runners at second and third following a sac bunt, sophomore outfielder Lane Hoover plated two runs with a flare single up the middle to push the Pirates’ lead to 7-4.
“When you don’t make mistakes, it just makes it really hard for the other team to score and you have seen us offensively put pressure on people and they make mistakes and it allows us to score more runs,” Godwin said to Overton post game.
With just three outs left, Elon could not respond as ECU’s bullpen clamped down in relief of Gill.
A combined 6.1 frames from Colmore and sophomore right-handed pitcher Garrett Saylor bridged the gap to two-way specialist Giles to get the save. Combined, Colmore and Saylor allowed just four hits and one earned run while striking out eight across 24 total batters faced.
“We don’t look at this week like a five-game week, it’s one day at a time, one pitch at a time,” Norby said to Overton on the radio post game. “Tomorrow (Wednesday) is another day, we’ll wake up and we’ll get ready to go but we can celebrate this one tonight because it’s a good team win.”
The Pirates will be back in action on Wednesday against the University of North Carolina at Wilmington (10-5, 0-0 CAA) in Wilmington, North Carolina. First pitch is scheduled for 6 p.m.