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Bolka improving in the outfield

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Luke Bolka wears an East Carolina "department of defense" shirt for standout defense during practice on Feb. 9, 2017.

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By Ronnie Woodward
The Daily Reflector

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Luke Bolka is listed on East Carolina baseball's online roster exclusively as a left-handed pitcher, but he could see more playing time in the outfield this weekend against Mississippi than on the pitcher's mound.

Bolka is best known to Pirate fans for hitting a home run to help beat Houston in the 2015 American Athletic Conference tournament championship game, and all of the senior's 32 career starts have come at designated hitter mainly because of defensive limitations. His career has largely been defined by being a specialist in the batter’s box against left-handed pitchers.

Bolka is trying to shed the specialist tag and coach Cliff Godwin has lauded his improved defense. The senior could be in line for his first start in the outfield this weekend, especially with the recent injury to first baseman Bryce Harman causing some shifts in the projected lineup.

"I'm proud of Luke and very excited for a very productive season out of him," Godwin said. "He obviously provides a lot of right-handed power in our lineup."

The power has always been there, but the other aspects of his game have supposedly improved, and Godwin said that is in part because of Bolka's all-around focus.

"He's a different guy in the outfield and I think Bolka has matured," the Pirates' third-year coach said. "I think his off-the-field extracurricular activity has slowed down, which has allowed him to play better consistently. He's better on the mound and I think he's going to be able to help us out in some kind of role on the mound, too.

"I'm excited for Luke Bolka because I think if you ask him, he wish he probably would have done this a long time ago because he's been able to perform better."

Bolka is one of a handful of options for a starting corner outfield spot, and Godwin and the sixth-ranked Pirates are likely to use multiple combinations during the series against the Rebels in Oxford, Miss.

Andrew Henrickson, a Pitt Community College transfer, has been a defensive standout and won the starting spot in center field. Dwanya Williams-Sutton is the other player almost guaranteed to start and he is hoping for a big sophomore year after earning freshman All-American status, but he might not play only in left field.

Freshman Bryant Packard is in the outfield after mainly being an infielder at D.H. Conley High School, and T.J. Riles and Dusty Baker also are newcomers looking for playing time.

Flexibility by all players could be valuable, especially late in games when situational substitutions arise.

"Right field, I haven't played there since travel ball and that was maybe one tournament, so it's not comfortable to me," Williams-Sutton said early in the preseason. "But coach always says be comfortable being uncomfortable. So if he needs me there, I'm going to be ready to play."

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

Ingle on watch list

GRAND FORKS, N.D. – Junior pitcher Joe Ingle was one of 60 players to be named to the initial watch list for the 13th annual National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association stopper of the year award, given to the top relief pitcher in NCAA Division I baseball.

Ingle, a three-time watch list candidate, appeared in 32 games out of the bullpen as a sophomore and led the American Athletic Conference with 12 saves, which stood 23rd nationally. He tallied a career-high nine strikeouts against Maryland in the LeClair Classic and worked a career-best five innings in Game 2 of the NCAA Lubbock Super Regional, where he fanned six and allowed just one hit.

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Humans of Greenville

@HumansofGville

Local photographer Joe Pellegrino explores Greenville to create a photographic census of its people.

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