Picking up right where he left off last Friday night, junior left-handed pitcher Alec Burleson spun a gem on Saturday in a 3-0 East Carolina University (4-1, 0-0 AAC) victory over Georgia Southern University (3-2, 0-0 Sun Belt).
Tabbed as one of the best two-way players in the country, Burleson picked up an RBI while tossing eight shutout innings against the Eagles. In the process, the southpaw set a new career-high in innings pitched for a single game, besting his 7.1 performance against Tulane University on May 5, 2018.
“It might have been the best game that he’s ever pitched at East Carolina and he’s pitched some big games,” head coach Cliff Godwin said. “That’s a veteran lineup over there, they’re older and they have an approach and just the way he was able to execute pitch after pitch was really impressive.”
Fresh off a 7-2 defeat on Wednesday in which the Pirates’ offense never truly woke up, ECU wasted little time in jumping all over the opposing starter pitcher for the Eagles. Junior right-handed pitcher Jordan Jackson, who tossed five innings of shutout ball in his season debut, took the mound for the visiting squad.
While he settled in over the duration of his outing, Jackson needed nearly 30 pitches to navigate the first seven Pirate batters in the top of the first. Greeted by an infield single off the bat of sophomore outfielder Lane Hoover, Jackson proceeded to allow a pair of RBI doubles from the heart of ECU’s order.
“It felt great. I think we really stuck to our offensive approach good,” junior outfielder Bryson Worrell said. “We got away from that on Wednesday and it showed. Burly threw a gem and we played great defense behind him.”
Breaking into the scoring column, Burleson nudged a ball down the left field line, just inches inside the foul line to plate Hoover who had moved into scoring position with a stolen base.
Worrell followed just two batters later with the first of his three hits, sending a ball down the right field line and into the corner for an RBI two-bagger. Less than a week after amassing just one hit with runners in scoring position, the Pirates needed less than one full inning to rack up two knocks in that same situation on Saturday.
In support of ECU’s 2-0 lead, Burleson went to work. Needing just 29 pitches to sit down the first nine Eagle hitters of the afternoon, Burleson was perfect the first time through the order. A 10-pitch first inning gave way to a 14-pitch second frame and five-pitch third.
“I think as a starter, what I’ve taken into this year is just letting them hit the ball and pitching to contact,” Burleson said. “Pitching to soft contact of course. Not trying to be too fine and that’s what is keeping my pitch count down and allowing me to go into the seventh, eighth innings.”
Working with a sharp off-speed offering and a fastball in the upper-80’s, Burleson racked up a number of swings-and-misses on non-fastballs.
Having kept the Georgia Southern hitters off-balance through the game’s first three innings, Burleson finally yielded his first hit of the day. A bloop single off the bat of senior infielder Steven Curry just over the head of the Pirate second baseman, however, ended his hopes of a no-hitter.
A shutout was still fully intact, though. Curry’s lead-off single in the fourth was erased by a 6-5-3 double play as Burleson retired the next seven Eagle hitters in order into the seventh inning.
“Felt like all the pitches were working, from the first to the last inning right there,” Burleson said. “Credit to my defense for sure, they made some plays. Ryder (Giles) at short, the double play, the line drive. Hoover in right, all those guys making plays.”
Georgia Southern’s only solid base knock of the evening came with one out in the seventh. Just a single through the middle by junior outfielder/catcher Christian Avant, that would prove to be the final hit Burleson allowed to the Eagles.
Through the seventh with the help of a lineout, fielder’s choice and fly out, Burleson induced two fly outs in the eighth before racking up his seventh punch out of his outing.
Evenly mixed with eight ground balls and fly outs, Burleson needed only 81 pitches to retire 25 batters and navigate eight strong innings. All told, the southpaw punched out seven Eagle hitters on Saturday, raising his total on the season to 13 over 15 total frames. His ERA now stands at 0.60 through two starts.
“He (Godwin) told me I was sitting out (the final inning),” Burleson said. “I was like ‘come on coach, let me go one more.’ We just had a chat out there and he said probably later in the season he’d let me go, but it’s a little early. (Matt Bridges) Bridgy was hot, so just kind of let Bridgy go out there and shut the door on them.”
Sixteen pitches from redshirt senior right-handed pitcher Matt Bridges later, and the Pirates were celebrating their fourth victory of the 2020 campaign.
Following two runs in the first inning, the Pirates tacked on in the fourth with a sac fly off the bat of junior catcher Seth Caddell. Mostly quiet for the majority of the contest, ECU did rack up eight hits, including a 3-for-4 effort from Worrell.
Sophomore infielder Connor Norby also posted a two-hit day, going 2-for-2 with a walk and stolen base.
The Pirates will be back in action on Sunday with a doubleheader against the Eagles to wrap-up a three-game series. Game one of the double dip is set to begin at 11 a.m. with the second game to follow 45 minutes after the conclusion of the first.