East Carolina opened the baseball season with a convincing sweep over Western Carolina at Clark-LeClair Stadium.
Pirate head coach Cliff Godwin had joked before the series that you really never know about a team until it actually plays in a game.
“We’ve practiced well,” Godwin had said with a smile. “Now we have to make sure we play that way when the lights come on.”
Godwin’s team did exactly that, excelling when the lights came on with three big wins over the Catamounts.
Opening day featured quite the weather phenomenon. The game started at 4 p.m. with sunny skies and 80 degrees. That quickly changed as black clouds rolled in and the temperature dropped some 20-25 degrees. Very little rain fell, but the perfect weather day was far from that halfway through the game.
Spencer Brickhouse got the Pirates started with a solo home run in the bottom of the second inning. The towering shot to right-centerfield evened the game at 1-1. ECU never trailed again the rest of the series.
“Coach (Godwin) and I really worked on shortening my swing,” said Brickhouse afterwards. “He wants me to just put a nice swing on the ball and I was able to do just that.”
Godwin praised the opening day crowd and his team’s play after the 8-3 win.
“Anytime you can come out to the ball park with over 3,000 fans on a nice day like we had today and get a win, is great,” Godwin said. “I thought our guys were engaged the whole game and we didn’t take our foot off the gas when we were ahead. We grinded out some tough at-bats and I like what I saw offensively.
“Trey (Benton) did a nice job for us and his fast ball I thought had a lot of sink to it. I liked the way we pitched as a staff today, which is evident with 15 strikeouts and no walks.”
That pitching staff stood as the weekend heroes. The staff had a 2.33 ERA for the weekend. Trey Benton got the Friday win, while Chris Holba won on Sunday. Tyler Smith came on for Jake Agnos to get the win on Saturday. Smith is pushing for a weekend slot, but may prove to be the key to the Pirates’ weekday success.
The Pirates took care of business in game two, 8-2. Brickhouse hit a 3-run home run in the first inning to get the party started.
“Jake (Agnos) didn’t have his stuff today, but I told him if you are not going to pitch good, then make sure you do it when we score a lot of runs,” Godwin said after the win. “I thought Tyler (Smith) did a nice job coming in and getting a quick 1-2-3 for us in the fourth inning and pitched well along with (Matt) Bridges and (West) Covington. We will keep trying to piece the bullpen together and using those type guys because we definitely have more depth than we’ve ever had here.”
That bullpen depth really shined on the opening weekend. Davis Kirkpatrick came in and pitched well in game one. Sam Lanier and Matt Bridges also pitched well in spots during the weekend. Lanier and Bridges were key elements of the 2016 team that went to the NCAA Super Regionals out of the pen.
The Pirates got another energy shot in the first inning in game three, when Connor Litton hit a 3-run home run as a part of a second straight, 5-run first inning for ECU. Chris Holba picked up the win with 4 2/3 scoreless innings. The Pirates completed the sweep with a 9-3 win.
“I thought we played well today (and all weekend) and I was impressed with our pitching staff and its depth,” said Godwin. “We were able to jump out to an early lead again getting five big runs. (Jake) Washer had a big two-RBI hit for us in that opening frame and Connor Litton’s 3-1 approach right afterwards was the shot we needed. It was good to get a bunch of guys some playing time this weekend, which will help with their confidence and development as the season goes along.”
We also got our first chance to see highly touted freshman right-hander Gavin Williams on Sunday. Williams hit 96 miles per hour on his first two pitches. He pitched a scoreless 9th in a non-save situation.
“My bet was that he was going to go out there and touch 95 (miles per hour) and he even topped me on that,” Godwin said with a smile. “I knew his adrenaline would be going. He’s a big-time arm and we’re lucky to have him.”
The season cranks up this week with a road game at Campbell on Wednesday, followed by the much-anticipated 3-game series with North Carolina. Game one is in Greenville on Friday at 5 p.m. Game two is in Durham at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park (DBAP) on Saturday at 6 p.m. and game three is Sunday at 1 p.m. at Boshamer Stadium in Chapel Hill.
The weekend series with UNC has been in the works for over a year. It’s the first of two that are planned in successive seasons.
If the weather holds out, the Pirates and Tar Heels should have big crowds for what should be a great, early season series.