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Shutout gives Pirates another LeClair title

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ECU's Trey Benton pitches during a game against Appalachian State at Clark-LeClair stadium Sunday, March 5, 2017.

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BY RONNIE WOODWARD
The Daily Reflector

Monday, March 6, 2017

With former East Carolina player Cliff Godwin in charge of the ECU baseball program, the Pirates are 3-for-3 in winning the Keith LeClair Classic.

They captured this year’s LeClair title on Sunday afternoon thanks to a dazzling outing from freshman pitcher Trey Benton for a 4-0 victory over Appalachian State. The win gave the ninth-ranked Pirates (8-3) a second straight weekend sweep and extended their winning streak to eight games.

Benton, who earned a weekend rotation spot largely because of the prowess he showed in fall workouts and late in the preseason, went seven innings with eight strikeouts, no walks and two hits allowed. He did not allow a baserunner past first base.

It was actually East Carolina’s fifth straight LeClair Classic championship, as it has now won in all three of Godwin’s seasons along with 2013 and ’14.

“It means a lot and words can’t express it,” said Godwin, who played for LeClair at ECU from 1998-2001. “Our kids want to go to Omaha and play in the College World Series and compete for a national championship. Not just for them, but for everybody who has ever played here and had that vision.”

Benton faced one batter over the minimum, inducing a key inning-ending double play in the second frame after a one-out single. In some ways, the performance was the final leg in a dominant one-two punch to what fellow rookie Jake Agnos did Friday with 11 strikeouts in five innings of relief to help the Pirates beat Western Carolina.

“I felt good out there, but I also have to give credit to my teammates back there behind me and making some web gems for me,” said Benton, who tossed five scoreless innings last Sunday against La Salle for his first-career victory. “They made some big plays and got the momentum rolling.”

Godwin also gave some injury updates after the win, saying that senior first baseman Bryce Harman is continuing progression from a preseason wrist injury but outfielder Dwanya Williams-Sutton looks to be out an extended period of time with a hurt thumb.

“Bryce will be before Dwanya, but as far as when, (Bryce) is going to take some swings this week and we just have to see how he feels,” Godwin said. “It’s going to be day-to-day once he takes swings. I don't want to rush him back out there, because I want him 100 percent when (American Athletic) Conference (play) comes around.”

The go-ahead run was scored in the bottom of the second, sparked by a Luke Bolka triple to the right field corner. He came home on a Spencer Brickhouse sacrifice fly.

After Benton produced a clean top of the seventh by retiring the three ASU (5-6) batters in order, ECU added three runs on four hits in the bottom half for a 4-0 cushion. Designated hitter Kirk Morgan lined an RBI single into right field and T.J. Riles hit a two-run double to create the final margin.

Matt Bridges pitched the final two innings without yielding a hit for East Carolina. Eric Tyler (2-for-3, run) and Travis Watkins (2-for-4) had multi-hit outings.

St. John’s 9, Western Carolina 1

St. John’s capped its big week with a rout of Western Carolina in the first game on Sunday. The Red Storm, which is ranked No. 16 by Collegiate Baseball and beat North Carolina in Chapel Hill earlier this season, went 2-1 at the LeClair Classic and Western was 0-3.

SJU starting pitcher Ryan McAuliffe went 5 1/3 innings without allowing a hit before a single through the right side when the Storm (10-1) led 4-0 in the bottom of the sixth. McAuliffe tossed seven innings with one run yielded, and WCU (4-6) finished the game with two hits.

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

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