I think East Carolina and North Carolina should do this every year.
The Tar Heel faithful may not agree, but I think the unique weekend series between the two heavyweight baseball programs was great for both fan bases.
What a compelling concept. Consisting of a home game for each team, split by a trip to a fantastic minor league ballpark, it caught the attention of all of college baseball.
Normally these games are during the week, with teams using their 4th or 5th starter, or sometimes even using a ‘staff’ rotation. This time it was your best against our best. It was ones versus ones, Friday starter against Friday starter and on through the weekend.
This series should help both teams as they get set for conference play next month.
East Carolina opened the weekend with a thrilling, 2-1 nail biter of a win over the Tar Heels. Trey Benton was lights out as the starter, giving up just two hits in six innings of work. Tyler Smith was electric as well, throwing three innings of no-hit baseball at the nation’s sixth-ranked team.
“I don’t know if all of the fans appreciated the pitcher’s duel, but it was really something,” said ECU coach Cliff Godwin.
“Trey was awesome with 11 punch outs in six innings and then Tyler coming out there and just filling up the strike zone, getting ground ball after ground ball. Two great pitching performances by our guys, which we needed because their pitchers were very good as well. Neither pitching staff gave you a lot of free opportunities, so tough hitting conditions tonight against quality pitching on both sides.”
The scene then shifted to the Durham Bulls Athletic Park for game two. Oddly enough this is the game that may go down as the most important of the series for ECU.
Spencer Brickhouse hit a huge 3-run home run to get the Pirates jump-started. UNC got a home run of their own and manufactured another run to slip by ECU, 5-4.
Godwin was philosophical when he spoke the media after the loss.
“When you are talking about some of the best pitchers in the country, this is going to prepare us for down the road,” Godwin said. “We didn’t win tonight and you guys know how much I hate losing, but our kids scratched and clawed and it just didn’t go our way in the end.”
But boy did it go the Pirates’ way on Sunday. East Carolina blew out the Tar Heels, 12-0, in a game that saw just about every Pirate on board have a role.
Jake Washer drove in a career-best four runs to lead the offense.
Chris Holba threw seven shutout innings to get his second win of the year. Holba walked the first two batters he faced on Sunday. He didn’t walk another on his way to a two hit, eight-strikeout performance in those seven frames.
“You have to take your hat off to Chris Holba with the way he went out and pitched today,” said Godwin. “Our bullpen wasn’t deep, we had some guys available, but wasn’t extremely deep. For him to get out of that first inning jam that he created on his own by striking out Busch and then get the ground ball was huge.”
Championship teams score runs with two outs in an inning. So far in this young season, that’s been a real positive for this Pirate baseball team.
“We feel like we are never out of an inning with two outs and I tell our guys to just keep battling,” Godwin said.
At least one of the national polls took notice of ECU’s series win. D1Baseball.com ranked the Pirates at number 18 this week.
One final note: The season debut of “The Cliff Godwin Show” is this Sunday at 11:30 a.m. on WNCT-TV. It’s my privilege to once again host the show, highlighting Pirate baseball.