West Covington

Senior pitcher West Covington on the field during previous game.

For the second game in a row, the East Carolina University baseball team used a late rally to come from behind and win a critical game down the stretch of the season, as an unlikely hero helped it defeat Campbell University 12-7 on Tuesday night at Clark-LeClair Stadium.

On the same day D1Baseball.com released its postseason projections and had ECU hosting Campbell in the Regional opening game, Pirate fans were treated to a preview of the potential postseason matchup as the two teams met. ECU improved to 38-13, while Campbell dropped to 29-22. ECU also kept its position as a potential regional host team, but head coach Cliff Godwin said he is more focused on the team goal of playing its best baseball.

“Our guys have played great this year,” Godwin said. “They’ve been very consistent, and we’re 38-13 and we’re playing good baseball down the stretch. Your goal is to play your best baseball at the end and I think we’re getting close to playing our best baseball.”

The Pirates needed a win on Sunday against the University of Cincinnati to secure a series win as well as get back into the host projections for NCAA Regional games. ECU was down by five, but responded with a comeback and a walk-off win. This time, ECU got down big and came back all during a long sixth inning.

After ECU starter redshirt senior West Covington pitched three scoreless innings to start the game and sophomore relief pitcher Willy Strong gave up just one run in two innings, the bullpen struggled. Freshman Jake Kuchmaner started the sixth inning for ECU, but gave up three runs and only got one out before being removed. Junior Sam Lanier came in and gave up two runs and left without recording an out. Junior Zach Barnes could not get an out after him either.

“I knew it wasn’t going to be easy,” Godwin said. “It’s never easy when you’re not going to throw the guys that are your go-to guys in the bullpen.”

All in all, the Pirates used five different pitchers during a six-run top of the sixth inning for Campbell, and two different relief pitchers were unable to record a single out before leaving the game. Running out of options, Godwin turned to redshirt junior Evan Voliva, who had not pitched at all yet this season after undergoing Tommy John Surgery. Voliva turned out to be the solution, as he responded with 2.2 scoreless innings to stop the Camels momentum, and picked up his first win since 2015.

Voliva came close to getting choked up after the game when talking about his first game action in fourteen months.

“Just getting that (feeling) again, it’s been so long,” Voliva said. “It’s just awesome, glad to be back.”

It had been a long journey for Voliva to return to the mound, and Godwin said Voliva had many opportunities to transfer or quit, but he toughed it out and stayed at ECU. Godwin said Voliva staying at ECU and deciding not to transfer made the moment more special for him as a manager.

“It makes it really satisfying, this day and age when kids usually quit and think the grass is always greener on the other side,” Godwin said. “For Evan Voliva, he stuck it out and has been hard-nosed, and just persevered through a lot of adversity.”

It was Voliva getting a fly out and catching a runner attempting to steal which ended the sixth inning and allowed ECU’s offense to come up and respond big time.

ECU matched Campbell’s six runs in the bottom half of the inning behind three doubles and two walks in the inning. ECU would keep the pressure on Campbell with a three run seventh inning to go up 12-7.

ECU was led by Dwanya Williams-Sutton, who went 4-for-4 with two home runs and four RBIs. Williams-Sutton and leadoff hitter Bryant Packard continue to be a dominant 1-2 punch for ECU. Packard went 3-for-5 with an RBI and a double. Being back-to-back in the lineup frees up both hitters to see better pitches, both Williams-Sutton and Packard said.

“When I’m on deck I kind of look at the pitches they throw him, because we’re kind of similar hitters,” Williams-Sutton said. “I just pretty much lock in and just feed off of what he does. We’re both pretty good hitters I’d say.”

Packard’s first inning single extended his hitting streak to 29 games, tying Stephen Batts for the ECU program record.

“I didn’t even know they kept track of hit streaks like that,” Packard said. “It was like a week ago when they told me I was kind of inching near it, but it’s really cool and it’s really good for media but you know we don’t really worry about it. It is an honor though I will say that.”

ECU next travels to Storrs, Connecticut for its regular season finale and final AAC series with UConn. The first game is Thursday, with first pitch scheduled for 1 p.m. Godwin said again he is less concerned with the team’s conference standings this weekend and more concerned with the team focusing on its play.

“We can’t win the conference championship on Thursday, how about that. And we can’t win it on Friday,” Godwin said. “If we’re lucky enough to win on Thursday and Friday then we can talk about a conference championship, but we just need to focus on being where our feet are.”

(1) comment

Martin Rael

It's a very rational approach to evaluate what we already have

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