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Pirates see ace return in shutout by UCF

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East Carolina's Evan Kruczynski pitches during a game against Central Florida on Saturday, April 15, 2017.

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BY RONNIE WOODWARD
The Daily Reflector

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Saturday for East Carolina baseball was mainly about the return of senior captain and left-handed pitcher Evan Kruczynski, but it was Central Florida freshman lefty Joe Sheridan who took top honors in leading the Knights to a 7-0 victory at Clark-LeClair Stadium.

The loss dropped ECU to 0-9 in American Athletic Conference action, continuing a shocking development from the preseason AAC pecking order that is also wearing on the Pirates.

Sheridan tossed 7.2 scoreless innings, putting a damper on what was a positive for the struggling Pirates (19-18) in seeing Kruczynski pitch for the first time since a March 3 foot injury and give up one run in five solid innings. UCF (26-11, 5-4) scored two key runs in the sixth and built its lead from there for a more conventional victory after it needed late comebacks in the first two games of the series.

“Today was the first day where I felt like we felt sorry for ourselves, like early (in the game),” coach Cliff Godwin said during an emotional media postgame session by him and Kruczynski. “If you do that, it’s going to be a long rest of the year. I’ll continue to say this, but this is really hard on these guys.”

With Sheridan in charge — he worked around four walks by striking out six Pirates — the hosts were out-hit 11-4. ECU was 0-for-11 hitting with a runner on base.

Kruczynski gave up three hits and struck out two with no walks during his 65-pitch outing.

“It was nice to be out there and be able to contribute again, but we just have to find a way,” he said. “At the end of the day, this is tough for everybody and we’re going to find a way to do it because this team cares for every single guy in the dugout. We’ll keep chugging away and hopefully something falls our way.”

Kruczynski, who was forced to smile and regroup after slipping off the mound for his first warmup pitch, tossed a clean first inning and let out a joyous yell with the third out. He then received plenty of high-fives as he returned to the dugout.

The high-fives and emotions were more demonstrative when Kruczynski ended the top of the fifth with a pickoff and the visitors up 1-0. UCF scored its lone run off the Pirate ace in the third with a sacrifice fly, and the Knights made it 3-0 in the sixth against bullpen arms with some help from a two-base fielding error by Charlie Yorgen at second base which was followed by a run-scoring single and RBI double.

ECU got runners to second and third base with one out in the first inning, but they were both stranded there after a Travis Watkins strikeout and Luke Bolka groundout. Wes Phillips began the frame with with a double to left-center field.

Phillips had half of the team’s hits from the leadoff spot, finishing 2-for-3 with a walk. The Knights got a hit from nine different players.

“The kids are trying, it’s just not happening for them right now,” Godwin said.

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

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