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ECU looking to add to HR total

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East Carolina's Travis Watkins follows through on a swing against St. John's at Clark-LeClair Stadium on March 4, 2017.

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By RONNIE WOODWARD
The Daily Reflector

Thursday, May 18, 2017

East Carolina baseball fifth-year catcher Travis Watkins was in catch-up mode Tuesday night against Campbell in the Pirates’ final home game of the season, going into the game trailing freshman slugger Spencer Brickhouse by two home runs for the season team lead.

Brickhouse was stuck on seven home runs for all of April and about half of May before hitting two last weekend against Memphis to pull away from Watkins and Dwanya Williams-Sutton. Watkins made up ground in ECU’s 14-6 win over Campbell at Clark-LeClair Stadium on a night devoted to the Pirates’ nine-man senior class, hitting a two-run homer in the first inning and solo shot in the fourth to move even with Brickhouse with nine HRs.

“We were talking in a pregame and I told Brickhouse that I was letting him slip away and I can’t let him slip away, so I had to try and catch up with him,” Watkins said. “We just tried to go up there and put good swings on it all night. I think that is the best our offense has looked in a long time and we’re headed in the right direction.”

Things will be more difficult in the final series against Connecticut, which begins today, and Watkins and others could receive days off at UConn as ECU (28-25) is looking to be as rested as possible for next week’s American Athletic Conference tournament.

Luke Bolka, who has eight home runs on the year, and Charlie Yorgen also went deep against Campbell.

Yorgen lined a round-tripper to right field to make it 12-6 in the seventh inning. Coach Cliff Godwin then substituted for the second baseman to ensure his final swing at Clark-LeClair Stadium would be a home run.

“I remember my senior night like it was yesterday and my last at-bat was a home run against N.C. State, so I told Charlie that we could kind of share something together and that’s why I took him out of the game,” said Godwin, who played for the Pirates from 1998-2001 as a catcher. “I wanted him to end with that.”

Holba hits mound

Chris Holba has been pitching during practice and preparing for a return to game action for weeks. That return happened Tuesday when he tossed an inning in relief in his first appearance since getting hit in the face with a line drive at Houston on April 7.

He wore a mask and his first eight pitches were strikes. The sophomore right-hander ended up yielding two runs on two hits with three strikeouts.

“I’ve tried to do a lot of stretching and stuff, just to try and get use to how (the mask) feels on my face, but the comfort level is fine,” said Holba, who got the pitching victory to improve to 4-1 with a team-best 2.54 ERA. “It’s better than not pitching. (Pitching) coach (Dan) Roszel and coach Godwin have done a lot with me to get back to my normal routine and other than getting used to the mask, I feel fine.”

Seeding strategy

Godwin and the Pirates are going to compete and see what happens at UConn, which is in fourth place in the league and one game behind the three-way tie for first place, but they are also aware that ECU is most likely in position to finish in eighth in the American.

Being the No. 8 seed for the AAC tournament means the Pirates would play the league winner Tuesday in Clearwater, Fla., which is why ace Evan Kruczynski will prepare for pitching then and not be used against UConn. Trey Benton and Jake Agnos might also sit out.

“Kruczynski is not going to throw just because we can’t risk it if we don’t get into the seventh seed,” said Godwin, whose club has a 6-15 conference record and is one game behind seventh-place Memphis. “Tulane is not throwing any of their guys against Memphis, and we need Memphis to lose too. With all those variables in place, we have to protect ourselves and be ready to play on Tuesday.”

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

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