UCF rallies again vs. Pirates
BY RONNIE WOODWARD
The Daily Reflector
Friday, April 14, 2017
There was a sense of unpredictability at Clark-LeClair Stadium on Friday night when East Carolina baseball starting pitcher Trey Benton walked off the mound with the Pirates clinging to a 2-0 lead in the top of the eighth.
Two runners were on base and there was one out. Even with mostly struggles by ECU’s bullpen this season, it was still a surprising surge put together when visiting Central Florida scored nine runs for a 9-4 victory by the Knights to extend the Pirates’ worst-ever start to conference action.
On Thursday night it was two runs by UCF with two outs in the top of the ninth to create extra innings in an eventual victory over ECU (19-17, 0-8 American Athletic Conference). This time, the nine-run eighth by UCF (25-11, 4-4) featured it scoring its first run on an infield single, taking the lead on a quirky two-run infield error with two outs and a grand slam to cap the big rally.
“I’m sure it’s going through our players’ minds and our coaches’ minds that we are going to find a way to lose, because I looked up today and we were 1-7 in one-run games this year,” said Pirate coach Cliff Godwin, who will start previously-injuried senior Evan Kruczynski in the series finale on a pitch count. “In our first two years, we were pretty good (in close games). We have to figure out a way to win those games, but I’m not giving up on this team and that’s just not coach speak.”
Benton was charged with two runs — he gave up three hits and struck out seven with no walks in 7.1 innings — Ryan Ross one, West Covington five and Tyler Smith one in the eighth.
Knights coach Greg Lovelady said there was nothing particular to take advantage of against the Pirates in the eighth, but there was momentum carrying over from Thursday’s late-game rally.
“I think when we got (Benton) out of the game, we hadn’t seen him well but we had seen some of these same guys,” Lovelady said. “We had confidence from last night going in, so I think it was just a little bit of a mixture of everything.”
ECU, ranked No. 6 in the preseason by Baseball America, dropped to 1-9 in its last 10 games.
“We’re doing things because we are trying too hard,” Godwin said.
Benton fanned six Knights during the first four innings. His seventh strikeout came against the first batter in the top of the eighth, and that was followed by a hit batsman and double to end the rookie’s outing.
He tossed 104 pitches, received a standing ovation and gave way to lefty Ross, who got a ground ball but the chopper to the right side hit by Luke Hamblin scored a run and the speedy Hamblin reached for an infield single. Covington induced a force-out at home plate, but the next batter hit a tailing infield liner that second baseman Charlie Yorgen had hit his glove and the ball rolled away during a sliding attempt for a unusual, two-run error with the ball never reaching the outfield.
Travis Watkins plated Bryce Harman in the bottom of the fifth with a two-out single for the game’s first run, and the Pirates made it 2-0 when Eric Tyler launched a home run to left field. Bryce Harman hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth.
Tyler finished 4-for-5 and Watkins 3-for-5.
Contact Ronnie Woodward at email@example.com, 252-329-9592 and follow @RonnieW11 on Twitter.