Whether it’s right here in Greenville or 3,000 miles across the United States, East Carolina University’s baseball team continues to prove why its one of the best teams in the country, taking a weekend series against the University of Washington, 2-1.
From a talent and record perspective, the Huskies (14-14, 6-3 Pac-12) came into this series as the underdog against the newly ranked No. 7 Pirates (24-7, 4-2 AAC), but there was a lot of speculation on how ECU would perform, considering it made its furthest trip in program history to the wet and cold city of Seattle.
But like the Pirates have done all season, they handled adversity and pulled out the series win because of the toughness and heart this team possesses, according to head coach Cliff Godwin.
“These guys are tough, battled their butts off and don't make excuses and I'm really proud of them,” Godwin said per ecupirates.com.
ECU split the double-header on Friday, which was originally scheduled for Saturday but was moved due to potential inclement weather. Entering Saturday, the Pirates faced a rubber match game for the third straight weekend. ECU has been close to unstoppable in series deciding games all year, particularly in game threes, going 8-0 with four shutouts while outscoring opponents 69-13.
ECU did just that in its 7-2 rubber match victory behind the dominance of sophomore right handed pitcher Tyler Smith, who’s shined in the weekend starting rotation since replacing sophomore left hander Jake Agnos. Smith brought his talent across the states and put on a show, going 7.1 innings while allowing just a run on three hits and two strikeouts. His 1.11 ERA after this weekend ranks sixth in the nation currently.
“It started on the mound with Tyler Smith as he was outstanding,” Godwin said per ecupirates.com. “In his first couple of innings it was pouring down rain and he had to manage through pitching on a muddy mound and did a great job.”
However, ECU was shutout 8-0 the second game of its double-header. For that you can thank Washington’s junior right hander Joe DeMers, who pitched a complete game shutout with seven strikeouts while allowing just five hits and no walks.
Benton’s night only lasted 4.1 innings after allowing five earned runs (four in the fifth inning) on eight hits with six strikeouts. This is the third consecutive start where Benton hasn’t pitched to his extremely high expectations, losing his third straight game while posting a combined 10.33 ERA in those contests.
Godwin shut down any questions or concerns on Benton’s struggles after the game one loss against Wichita State University on March 29, so it’s safe to assume Godwin isn’t worried about his ace. However, the sooner Benton returns to what he’s capable of, the better for the Pirates because one can argue ECU would have swept these past three weekend series if Benton pitched the way he did in his first four starts.
The Pirate’s pitching however has overshadowed ECU’s offense, which has developed a habit of responding to opponents as soon as they score a run. In game three, the Huskies jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the top of the fourth inning but sophomore designated hitter Bryant Packard put the Pirates in front with a three run homer. The same thing happened in game one when Junior right fielder Dwanya Williams-Sutton launched a solo home run the game to the put the Pirates up 2-1 after UW tied the game the previous inning.
“We had a lot of quality at-bats against a very good pitcher and a pitcher-friendly zone,” Godwin said. “We put a lot of quality at-bats together, executed and played good defense.”
The 2-1 series win against the Huskies adds to ECU’s impressive resume over the course of the season, which includes series wins against top 25 teams in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Wichita State, and the University of Central Florida. The Pirates now enter a nine game stretch where they will play six games on the road, with the next game taking place at Elon University (15-13, 4-5 CAA) tomorrow night at 6 p.m.
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