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Holba helps Pirates rally past Duke

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East Carolina's Chris Holba throws a pitch during Tuesday's game against Duke at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park.

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By RONNIE WOODWARD
The Daily Reflector

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

By nature, East Carolina baseball pitcher Chris Holba is not very demonstrative.

He acted differently as he trotted off the field at Durham Bulls Athletic Park on Tuesday to cap his outing of five shutout innings to guide ECU in a 9-4 comeback win against Duke for the Pirates’ 15th straight win against the Blue Devils from the nearby Atlantic Coast Conference.

Runners were on first and second base with the Pirates (13-4) leading 7-3 in the bottom of the seventh and a ground ball went to Eric Tyler, who touched third base and fired the ball over to first for an inning-ending double play.

Holba likely knew his outing was complete, so he smacked his glove and gave out some forearm bumps as he reached the dugout at the Durham minor league stadium. He took the mound to begin the bottom of the third with Duke (10-9) leading 3-0.

“I think we’re going to need Chris some out of the bullpen moving forward until (Friday starter Evan) Kruczynski gets back healthy,” Pirate coach Cliff Godwin said. “I had talked to Holba about that and it really wasn’t the plan to bring him in the third inning, but he is ready for anything and he just went in there and filled the strike zone up.”

Holba (3-0) has been stellar as ECU’s main midweek starter, but he tossed two innings Saturday for the save and series win against Charlotte. After relieving starter Hunter Hood for the third, he retired 13 of 14 batters and allowed two singles before the double play.

“It was a great play by Eric,” said Holba, who struck out five, walked one and gave up two hits. “The two seeing-eye singles were a little frustrating, but I knew I just had to get a ground ball there and my defense would take care of the rest.”

The ECU offense came to life during the middle innings, scoring five runs in the top of the fifth and adding insurance runs the rest of the way. All nine of the East Carolina starters had a hit, led by two-hit outings from Charlie Yorgen, Turner Brown and Tyler.

The bottom of the batting order sparked the big five-run rally in the top of the fifth to overtake the 3-0 Duke edge. Singles by Bryant Packard, T.J. Riles and Dusty Baker started the frame, and ECU ended up plating five runs in the inning thanks to four hits, two walks and four wild pitches.

Brown scored the go-ahead run, coming home on Luke Bolka’s 4-3 groundout for a 4-3 edge.

Duke’s hard-throwing freshman starter Graeme Stinson, a 6-foot-5 lefty, was overpowering during the early innings until he hit trouble in the fifth. He struck out four Pirates in the second frame (Packard was fanned and reached on a passed ball) and finished with seven Ks and three runs allowed in 4 1/3 innings.

Duke used six pitchers, and they threw eight combined wild pitches.

“Our goal always is to get into the bullpen, and coach always stresses that as you get in there, you’ve kind of won half the battle,” said Bolka, who along with Yorgen had two RBIs. “Then we were ready to just tear it up for the rest of the game.”

Hood, a junior college transfer making his first-career start at East Carolina, gave up three runs on five hits in two innings. Evan Voliva pitched in the bottom of the ninth and faced two batters, then left with an apparent arm issue.

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

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