The No. 18 ranked East Carolina University baseball team showed why it’s nationally ranked by sweeping a home weekend series against the University of Maryland behind clutch pitching and timely hitting.
ECU (16-4) welcomed back sophomore outfielder Bryant Packard, and junior shortstop Turner Brown to the lineup after various injuries kept them out for more than a week each. Their presence rejuvenated a lineup that struggled through its last mid-week games, a 3-0 loss to Virginia Commonwealth University on Tuesday and a 2-1 victory over Elon University the next day.
Sophomore pitchers Trey Benton and Chris Holba, as well as junior pitcher Tyler Smith had great starts in each game, giving ECU the opportunity to win all three games against the Terrapins (9-10). Senior pitcher Ryan Ross had two saves after getting called into the game by head coach Cliff Godwin for prolonged outings. Two of the three games in the series were shutouts, and the third was a 14-run blowout. The only flaw that worried the Pirates was the number of hits given out in the series.
In game one, in front of 2,725 fans, Benton and Terrapins’ starter Taylor Bloom dueled to a close game the entire way, but ECU strung in together enough hits to squeak out a 4-0. Benton allowed nine hits and zero runs in 6.2 innings pitched, while throwing eight strikeouts and no walks. Ross came in and put the finishing touches on the game, with four strikeouts and only one hit in the final 2.1 innings.
“Coach Rozel always tells me that when runners get on you, get tougher,” Benton said. “When they got on, I tried to make better pitches and I threw better stuff.”
Game two of the series was where the ECU batters put on a show. It looked like the Pirates were scoring a run every inning after they finally etched across their first run in the second inning. When the bases were loaded, senior left fielder Drew Henrickson started a scoring rampage with a ground out to bring center fielder Brady Lloyd around to score the first of 18 total runs. Lloyd finished 5-for-5 at the plate, accounting for almost one-third of the teams 16 hits.
Holba only solidified the Pirates’ blowout by allowing just two runs off seven hits in his 5.1 innings pitched. He exited the game up 12-2 after allowing two runs on seven hits, while throwing five strikeouts and one walk.
“It was nice to be able to see the game on Friday. I was able to learn a lot about the offense of Maryland,” Holba said. “No matter what Benton did I had to flip the page and it was my day to do my thing, I was able to see their approach and what they had as a team.”
ECU finished off the series with another shutout, completing the sweep with a 4-0 victory. Godwin went back to Smith, who is attempting to solidify himself as ECU’s third starter. He earned the victory after pitching 5.2 innings, allowing no runs on six hits and one walk, while striking out seven.
Ross came in again and recorded his second save of the series and season by striking out four, allowing no runs, no hits and no walks in the last three innings to preserve the ECU sweep.
“It was awesome to play in two of the three outings. It was easy to take over with the eight guys I had behind me,” Ross said.
The team got major production overall from both the pitching staff and lineup. The batters tallied 28 hits in 93 at-bats, a combined batting average of .301. The pitchers surrendered 27 hits in 103 at-bats for Maryland. They struck out 32 as a team and allowed just five walks in the series. ECU demonstrated for the second consecutive series why it is nationally ranked. Times will get tougher for the Pirates as American Athletic Conference play begins this weekend against the University of Central Florida.
“It was a great team win, I don’t think you can credit anybody really,” Godwin said. “Our pitching and defense was good all weekend, offensively we were really good Saturday. You have to score to win, and we scored four runs on Friday and today. I thought our guys had tough at-bats the entire weekend.”
Before AAC play starts, the Pirates will travel to the University of North Carolina at Wilmington for a game tomorrow at 6 p.m.