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Make it six sweeps for ECU

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East Carolina's Alec Burleson slides into third base during the first game against Connecticut on Saturday.

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BY RONNIE WOODWARD
The Daily Reflector

Saturday, April 20, 2019

East Carolina made another strong statement on Saturday as the American Athletic Conference baseball leader, this time beginning at 9 a.m. at Clark-LeClair Stadium and then during the afternoon hours in sunny and better hitting conditions in front of 3,655 fans.

The bullpen was key for the Pirates in an initial 5-2, seven-inning win over visiting Connecticut, followed by Spencer Brickhouse hitting two no-doubt home runs to power ECU to a 9-7 victory to sweep Saturday’s doubleheader and complete the Pirates’ sixth series sweep of this season.

Half of those sweeps have come in AAC play by the No. 12 Pirates (29-10, 11-1). ECU went 4-0 this week as it continues to build toward its first AAC regular-season championship and second straight year as an NCAA regional host.

“Our goal wasn’t to be 11-1, but just to keep playing good baseball,” ECU coach Cliff Godwin said. “I didn’t think we played a great brand of baseball early in Game 1 … but guys played tough and they competed and grinded it out. Anytime you can sweep a great UConn team at home, then you have done something.”

Complementing Brickhouse’s home runs were solo homers by Chandler Jenkins and Jake Washer, who finished 2-for-3 with two runs scored. Brickhouse was 0-for-2 in the opener, but 3-for-4 with five RBIs in Game 2.

The Huskies (24-16, 7-8) hit two home runs in the final inning.

ECU improved to 8-2 in doubleheader games this year, the two losses coming at No. 1 UCLA last weekend.

Brickhouse crushed his two long shots to right field with wind also blowing strong out to right field. The first was a high three-run, go-ahead homer in the third inning for a 3-2 lead, and his second sailed even further beyond the right field fence for a 6-2 lead in the fifth.

The left-handed junior has 11 home runs this year and 31 for his career.

“That is baseball and that is life when it comes down to you are going to have good times and have bad times,” Brickhouse said of his Saturday afternoon swings. “You have to just ride out the good times and the bad times, and keep on playing the game.”

ECU used seven different relief pitchers on the day. Gavin Williams was clutch in Game 2 with two scoreless innings when it was 6-4, which turned into 9-4 after the Pirates’ three runs in the eighth.

“It always is a great thing to sweep,” Williams said. “It comes down to preparation and taking it one pitch at a time. The first game didn’t matter, because we always have to worry about the next pitch.”

Pirate starter Tyler Smith (5-0) gave up four runs (three earned) on six hits in 5.1 innings. Zach Barnes relieved Ryder Giles in the top of the ninth and recorded the final two outs. Barnes and Giles each gave up a home run.

East Carolina 5, Connecticut 2

A nontraditional baseball setting Saturday morning at Clark-LeClair Stadium gave way to a familiar theme of East Carolina rallying to defeat American Athletic Conference opponents.

ECU beat Connecticut 5-2 in a seven-inning game to begin the doubleheader, getting a boost from a three-run third inning and delivering five scoreless innings in a command effort by the bullpen. The game began at 9 a.m. to offset Friday’s rainout.

The Pirates’ relief work consisted of Trey Benton, Sam Lanier and Evan Voliva allowing two total hits with seven strikeouts, no walks and three hit batsmen in their five combined innings.

“I thought Sam and Voliva were tremendous in the first game, and that was the only way we could win the game,” Godwin said. “Back up to Trey Benton and he comes in with the bases loaded in a jam and hits the first guy, but only gives up one other run. Anytime you come in to a bases-loaded jam and no outs and give up two runs or less, you’ve done your job.”

Benton improved to 4-0 in a 1.2-inning outing. Lanier also went 1.2 frames, striking out four Huskies, and Voliva secured his third save also in 1.2 innings without allowing a hit.

All 12 hits, led by ECU’s seven, were singles.

Alec Burleson, who finished 3-for-4, chopped the ball into right field for the Pirates’ only hit in a lengthy bottom of the third that saw them score three runs and UConn use three different pitchers. Turner Brown and Lane Hoover drew consecutive bases-loaded walks before pinch hitter Washer plated Brickhouse on a sacrifice fly to deep center field for a 3-2 edge.

The Huskies scored in the top of the third on a sacrifice fly and then a hit batsman, on Benton’s first pitch, for a 2-0 lead.

In all, the third inning featured five walks, two hit batsmen, two sacrifice flies and a Pirate throwing error.

East Carolina starter Jake Kuchmaner faced runners in scoring position throughout his two-plus innings and ended up being charged with two runs — both unearned — on three hits with two strikeouts, a walk and a hit batsman. He threw 47 pitches, 25 for strikes.

UConn starter Jimmy Wang gave up three runs on four hits in 2.1 frames.

ECU picked up two insurance runs in the bottom of the sixth on RBI singles by Nick Barber and Bryant Packard. Barber entered as a pinch runner for Giles during the third inning and finished 1-for-2 with two runs scored.

Contact Ronnie Woodward at rwoodward@reflector.com, 252-329-9592 and follow @RonnieW11 on Twitter.

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