After the East Carolina baseball team’s ninth American Athletic Conference loss Saturday, head coach Cliff Godwin hung his head as he felt the overwhelming emotions from a sweep at the hands of Central Florida.
Saturday the Pirates (19-18; 0-9 AAC) were shutout for the second time this season. The team seemed to have a sense of eagerness as it stepped on the field in a final effort to break its losing streak in the conference with Evan Kruczynski returning to the mound after six weeks out due to injury.
“Anytime you have your Friday night ace back out there, obviously it’s a good feeling,” said Godwin. “I thought he was rusty early. Just his command wasn’t as good as it normally is, and we probably pitched him one extra inning than we thought we probably were just because his fourth inning was so good.”
Kruczynski pitched five innings Saturday and only let up three hits and one run against a fairly powerful Knights offense.
The Pirates quickly retired the three batters on the side before senior Wes Phillips led off for the Pirates with a double to left-center field in the bottom of the first. The bats would begin to struggle soon after, however, as ECU would only register four hits in the game. ECU was 0-for-11 with runners on base in the loss.
“It’s something different everyday, but like I told our guys, we have to execute our plan,” Godwin said. “We watch video, we talk about what the pitchers are going to try to do to us. If you look at our at bats, one guy would execute the plan then the next guy wouldn’t, the next guy would execute the plan and just stringing those at bats together.”
Similarly, for a majority of the season, ECU began to let in runs in the final innings with two coming in the eighth and two in the ninth to bring the final score to 7-0.
This same trend occurred in the matchup on Friday as well. Upon entering the eighth inning the Pirates held a 2-0 lead, but it would not last long. With one out, Trey Benton hit a batter with a pitch and UCF’s (26-11, 5-4) Bryce Peterson drilled a double down the left field line to put runners in scoring position. A call to the bullpen brought in Ryan Ross to relieve Benton, but after a Luke Hamblin single and RBI, Ross was quickly replaced by West Covington.
Covington’s first pitch fell short of success as the batter reached first to load the bases after being hit by a pitch as well. A fielder’s choice to hold the lead left the bases loaded as Eric Tyler threw home for the second out of the inning.
From that point forward the inning spiraled out of control. Covington walked in the tying run, and was followed by an error at second base by Charlie Yorgen to score two more runs. Covington then walked back-to-back batters to bring in another unearned run to make it 5-2.
A third pitching change for the Pirates brought in freshman Tyler Smith to face senior Kam Gellinger who cranked a ball to right field for a grand slam and a 9-2 lead. ECU tallied two more runs, but the damage was too much to overcome as the Pirates fell 9-4.
“It’s nothing to do with effort. This team prepares and puts more in than any team in the country,” Yorgen said. “Coach Godwin always says we do things the right way and that’s true and I firmly believe that. This is a great group of guys, so we just have to keep preparing like we have been all year and something will click.”
Overall on the weekend, the bullpen gave up 22 of the 24 total runs scored by the Knights. While the starting rotation has stepped up this season in spite of Kruczynski’s injury and a difficult year for other returning starters, the bullpen has not had a similar fate.
Covington leads the bullpen ERA-wise at 2.19 in just 12 1/3 innings pitched, followed by Ryan Ross (seven innings) at 3.86, but they are the only two pitchers that have an ERA under four. Tyler Smith (27 innings) sits at 4.67, Kirk Morgan (seven 2/3) close behind with a 4.70, Jacob Wolfe (35 1/3) at 5.09, Matt Bridges (29 2/3) sits at 5.46, Sam Lanier (27 2/3) jumps up to a 6.18, Joe Ingle (19 2/3) at 6.86 and Davis Kirkpatrick (11 2/3) at 6.94.
In the first game of the series for the Pirates, they kicked off the game 7-1 going into the fifth inning. The Knights turned on their bats in the fifth inning against Wolfe, followed by poor help from Lanier, Smith and Bridges ultimately tying up the game to send it into extra innings. After 11 innings the Pirates ultimately fell short 8-7 for the first loss of the series.
“It’s not going to get easier,” Godwin said about the remainder of the season. “It’s going to be tough. The kids are trying; it’s just not happening for them right now.”
The Pirates will hit the road to face UNC Wilmington today at 6 p.m. before traveling to Cincinnati to face the Bearcats this weekend in an attempt to grab their first win in the AAC.