East Carolina won two out of three in the Keith LeClair Classic and now the Pirates will spend this spring break week in Mississippi.
This is a team still trying to find itself. The Pirates had their best outing of the weekend on Sunday, beating Western Carolina 12-6.
But even in that game things got dicey late. The Pirates built a 7-2 lead only to see the Catamounts score four runs in the sixth to get back into the game.
Jake Kuchmaner came on in relief and earned high praise from Pirate coach Cliff Godwin. He pitched two scoreless innings, stemming Western’s wave of momentum in time for the Pirates to add five runs and win the game going away.
“That’s our plan to come out of the bullpen and change momentum,” Kuchmaner said. “That’s what I’m trying to do, so work fast, fill up the zone and hopefully get some outs quick.”
“I gave Kuchmaner a shirt,” head coach Cliff Godwin said.
Godwin awards a player of the game shirt after a win.
“I thought when Kuchmaner came in, the momentum of the game changed,” said Godwin. “To be honest with you, I thought our team felt like there was something else bad that was going to happen after the home run (a 3-run shot by WCU’s Daylan Nanny). But Kuchmaner came in and changed the momentum of the game. That allowed us to get our feet underneath us and we were able to execute really well down the stretch.”
With the win the Pirates finish in a 3-way tie for the mythical LeClair Classic title.
ECU, Wright State and Utah all finished 2-1 in the event. Western Carolina was 0-3.
Offensively the Pirates got quite a boost from Bryant Packard and Spencer Brickhouse. Both players have battled early season injuries. Packard’s hand and Spencer’s oblique injuries have slowed the Pirate sluggers to start the year.
Packard hit in the five hole, and promptly went 4-5 with a pair of doubles and four runs scored. Brickhouse went 3-3 and scored a pair of runs.
“Nobody works and prepares harder than those two guys,” Godwin said. “Some fans and media think they should hit home runs every time. That’s not going to happen. They’re human beings. They don’t need to try and do anything more than what they did today. They just need to put together quality at-bats.”
Godwin said he thought Packard was pressing, so he told him he was hitting fifth and to look for the ball deep.
“Coach Godwin called me into his office this morning and told me to take some pressure off myself and he was going to put me in the five-hole,” Packard said. “I think that helped a lot. My swing hasn’t changed at all. He showed me some video from the fall. He just got me to relax and that helps the offense flow when I’m on base and guys are in scoring position.”
The one big negative from the weekend was the leg injury to Alec Burleson. Burleson pulled up lame after a double in the LeClair finale against Western Carolina.
Godwin said after the game that he expected Burleson to miss a couple of games, which would likely include his scheduled start on Friday in the series opener with Marist.
Burleson has been the Pirates season MVP to date, hitting .542 with seven doubles. He’s also started on the mound in the three Friday games to date, going 1-0 with a 3.18 ERA.
As expected after the 3-2 week the Pirates took a dip in the national rankings.
East Carolina fell from 11th to 14th in the Baseball America poll. ECU went from 9th to 16th by Perfect Game and from 14th to 18th by D1Baseball.
The Pirates aren’t playing their best baseball and they’ll have to play much better on this road trip to the Magnolia State to challenge Ole Miss and Mississippi State.
Ole Miss is ranked as high 7th (Perfect Game) in the polls, while Mississippi State is ranked as high at 10th (D1 Baseball).
Both game were originally set for 7:30 starts but now both have been moved up to start at 4 p.m.