Snapped at six games, the East Carolina University (13-4, 0-0 AAC) baseball team’s win streak has involved a pair of low-scoring contests of late. A 5-2 loss to the University of North Carolina at Wilmington (11-5, 0-0 CAA) on Wednesday not only curtailed that run, but means the Pirates were defeated for the first time since Feb. 29.
Coming of the walk-off variety in the bottom of the ninth inning, sophomore catcher Matt Suggs mashed a three-run home run to left-center field off sophomore infielder Ryder Giles, capping off what was a 1-for-5 night for the Seahawks’ backstop.
“We didn’t execute, they played better than us,” head coach Cliff Godwin said to Gary Overton on the radio post game. “They got a swing off in the ninth inning. It’s my fault because I left Ryder in, I’ve asked too much of the kid. I take the blame for the loss because just putting a kid in that situation, obviously he wanted the ball, but we should have put somebody else in. Ryder has done his job to get us out of the eighth, got the save last night.”
Asked to toss 15 pitches on Tuesday to lock down ECU’s victory over Elon University (7-10, 0-0 CAA), Giles navigated a clean eighth frame on Wednesday after entering with a runner on base. Nevertheless, Giles issued a lead-off double in the ninth before intentionally walking a batter ahead of Suggs’ long ball that ended the contest.
Having outscored its opponents 64-15 over the last six contests, ECU has had little problem generating offense this season. Seven more runs by the Pirates on Tuesday helped them increase their team batting average to .321 prior to play on Wednesday. That number ranked as the fifth-best in the country while ECU also ranked 14th in hits (175) and 34th in on-base percentage (.401) entering play.
Behind names like junior left-handed pitcher/first baseman Alec Burleson and junior outfielder Bryson Worrell, ECU also entered Wednesday 37th in slugging percentage with a .449 mark. Aside from those guys, however, sophomore infielder Connor Norby has emerged as a consistent bat in the middle of head coach Cliff Godwin’s lineup.
A .500 (6-for-12) effort over the weekend against Charlotte for Norby turned into a 9-for-15 performance with three hits on Tuesday. Toss in an additional two hits on Wednesday in Wilmington and Norby is 11 for his last 19 over his last five games, good enough for a .579 batting average.
This hot stretch has catapulted Norby’s batting average up over .400 for the season and deepened the Pirates’ order in the absence of sophomore infielder Thomas Francisco and redshirt junior outfielder Christian Smallwood.
While Norby collected a pair of hits on Wednesday, ECU used small ball to produce offense. Not long removed from displaying a relentless attack at the dish, the Pirates were kept off the board through the game’s first three innings.
Matching UNCW redshirt sophomore right-handed pitcher Brody Lawson, ECU’s bullpen was called upon in relief of junior right-handed pitcher Trystan Kimmel who recorded five outs on Wednesday. With three walks through 1.2 innings, Kimmel needed 37 pitches to navigate seven batters, and fired just 19 strikes, leaving after walking back-to-back hitters in the second.
Tabbed to get out of the frame, freshman left-handed pitcher C.J. Mayhue ended up working three frames for the Pirates and helped bridge the gap to the latter innings. Tossing a season-high 51 pitches, Mayhue scattered four hits and a walk across 14 batters. Most importantly, however, the southpaw was touched up for his first earned run of his collegiate career.
In the fourth, redshirt junior infielder/outfielder Kip Brandenburg blasted a Mayhue offering over the left field wall, tying Wednesday’s contest at 1-1. The Pirates, who grabbed their first run just a half inning earlier, used two base hits, a walk and a hit-by-pitch to open the scoring.
Like UNCW had done in the home half of the fourth inning, the Pirates responded with a tally in the fifth inning to siege the advantage once again. On the back of a triple from sophomore outfielder Lane Hoover, freshman infielder Zach Agnos was able to plate ECU’s second run with a sacrifice fly to right field.
That lead lasted just an inning and a half as both teams continued to runners on base throughout the innings. Tied 2-2 into the seventh, ECU squandered a prime opportunity to take the lead for the third time. With runners on first and third and only one away, Agnos put down a bunt in an attempt to squeeze the Pirates’ third run home. Instead, Giles was cut down at the plate, preserving the deadlock further.
“We didn’t get a chance to win but we should have scratched some runs earlier,” Godwin said to Overton post game. “We missed some opportunities, so they beat us.
With two runners left on base in that seventh inning, the Pirates also failed to cash in two runners in the eighth. All told, ECU left nine men on the base paths and managed just a 2-for-11 (.182) effort in that situation on Wednesday.
In the same boat, UNCW matched the visiting squad with nine men left on base, including one in the bottom of the eighth inning. Stranded there after Giles took the mound and shut down the Seahawks’ scoring opportunity, the game would remain knotted at 2-2 until Suggs’ walk-off shot in the ninth.
“We’re going to get everybody’s best blow,” Godwin said to Overton post game. “They played really good tonight, they pitched really well. We played fine but I didn’t think that we played our best baseball game.”
Due to the coronavirus, ECU’s weekend home series against Columbia University was cancelled on Wednesday. While the Pirates’ next scheduled game is against Virginia Commonwealth University (9-8, 0-0 A10) on Tuesday in Richmond, Virginia, uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus may render that impossible. First pitch is currently scheduled for 6:30 p.m.