After scoring a combined six runs over the first two games of the weekend, the East Carolina University (8-3, 0-0 AAC) baseball team broke out for 13 runs in a 13-1 victory over High Point University (5-7, 0-0 Big South) on Sunday.
“All the fans can stop panicking because we lost two games in a row against two quality opponents,” head coach Cliff Godwin said. “We’re going to be okay. As you draw up the season in 11-game segments, you have five of them. If you can go 8-3 each time, then you get 40 regular season wins.”
Behind a strong five innings from junior left-handed pitcher Jake Kuchmaner and two solo home runs off the bat of junior outfielder Bryson Worrell, the Pirates salvaged a win in their first losing weekend of the 2020 campaign.
Still working back from preseason shoulder soreness, Kuchmaner looked as close to mid-season form as he has all season. Looking to get the most out of his predisposed pitch count, the southpaw needed only 20 total pitches to get the first six High Point batters out.
“It was good,” Kuchmaner said. “Finally got to get extended a little bit. Had a lot of run support again which was always good.”
With the help of an inning-ending double play in the first, Kuchmaner bought himself a season-high five innings by working quickly and efficiently on the evening.
Gripping and ripping as they say, Kuchmaner allowed two of his four hits in the third inning, resulting in a bases loaded jam. With ECU up 2-0 at that time, a single could have changed the complexion of the contest. Instead, senior utility player Joe Johnson, who was also the Panthers’ starter on Sunday, struck out looking to end the threat.
“Today was 75 pitches to 80 pitches (for Kuchmaner),” Godwin said. “Really the key was the third inning. We’re up 2-0, bases loaded, 3-2 count, one of their better hitters up, he’s able to get out of the jam. That’s vintage Kuch and making a big pitch when he had to.”
Having come up empty in the third, High Point could only watch as the Pirates broke the game open just a half inning later.
Already up 2-0, thanks in part to the first of Worrell’s two home runs on the day, ECU tacked on five additional runs in the home half of the third frame. A run-scoring ground out from junior left-handed pitcher/first baseman Alec Burleson plated a run but killed a bases loaded, nobody out situation.
Following Burleson’s double play ball, however, five straight Pirate batters reached base, three via base hits. The trio of junior catcher Seth Caddell, sophomore infielder Connor Norby and sophomore outfielder Christian Jayne all tallied RBI base knocks. Along with Caddell scoring on a passed ball, the Pirates were able to take a commanding 7-0 lead into the middle innings on Sunday.
Immediately in response to ECU’s big inning, Kuchmaner retired High Point on eight pitches in the top of the fourth inning and worked a clean fifth to put a bow on his outing.
Scattering four hits and two walks over five innings, Kuchmaner fired a season-high 72 pitches, including 47 strikes and failed to give up an extra base hit.
The Pirates, however, continued racking up multi-base hits. Without one through the weekend’s first two games, ECU racked up four total on Sunday, including a trio of home runs and a double.
Two of those home runs came courtesy of Worrell with each coming of the solo variety. Both to right field and both hit well over the 320 sign, the blasts helped Worrell log his first multi-homer game of his career. With only six long balls in two seasons prior to 2020, Worrell now has four home runs on the season to pace the program and is just one away from tying a career-high for a season set last year.
“Bryson’s been great,” Godwin said. “So has everybody else. I think some guys have been pressing. It’s good to see Burly hit one out. Bryson getting two, Connor Norby played like himself today. Hoover is getting back into the swing of things, playing like himself.”
Wanting to get in on the fun, Burleson smashed a long ball in the home half of the sixth inning. Of the two-run variety, the home run over the right field wall represented the All-American’s first of the 2020 campaign and his 10th career blast.
Coming shortly after a RBI sacrifice bunt, Burleson’s home run put the Pirates up 11-1 in the sixth as they would go on to plate 13 runs across nine innings during Sunday’s contest.
Yet another big offensive day to close out a weekend, the Pirates collected 16 hits as both Norby and sophomore outfielder Lane Hoover amassed three knocks each. Worrell finished the contest 2-for-2 with a walk, two home runs, two RBI and three runs scored while three ECU players recorded two RBI each.
“It’s never fun to hit when the wind is blowing in and it’s sub-40 degrees outside so today was a whole lot better day to hit,” Worrell said.
On the mound, freshman right-handed pitcher Bradley Wilson worked two clean innings in relief of Kuchamner. Able to clean up freshman right-handed pitcher Nate Nabholz’s mess in the sixth, Wilson yielded just one hit while striking out two batters as redshirt junior right-handed pitcher Evan Odum also worked a clean frame on the mound.
With the game out of reach in the ninth, junior right-handed pitcher Gavin Williams made his season debut as he continues to work back from a finger injury. In line to start the season as ECU’s Friday night starter, Williams sustained an inning during preseason scrimmages and missed the first three weeks of the season.
Known for his mid-90’s fastball, Williams topped out at 96 MPH on Sunday and punched out the first batter he faced before inducing a double play to end the game. He tossed 13 pitches total, eight for strikes.
“He was going to throw an inning and we were hoping that we could do it when the game was not on the line,” Godwin said. “So we had it penciled in to throw the ninth inning no matter what the score was. I don’t know if I would have ran him out there if it was like a one run game because I don’t know if it would have been fair to him.”
All told, the Pirates limited High Point to a 1-for-7 effort with runners in scoring position and stranded 10 of their runners on base. For perspective, ECU hit 6-for-11 in that same situation and left just four runners on the base paths.
“We needed to come out today and play really well so we could get a win,” Godwin said. “We did that. Tomorrow will be an off-day, we’ll get a lift in, we’ll practice on Tuesday, get ready for Liberty on Wednesday.”
The Pirates will be back in action on Wednesday when they face Liberty University (7-4, 0-0 ASUN) inside Clark-LeClair Stadium. First pitch is scheduled for 4 p.m.