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Pirates, pitchers hold strong again

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East Carolina's Alec Burleson makes the out at first base as pitcher Tyler Smith (20) looks on Friday at Clark-LeClair Stadium. Feb. 17, 2018. (Molly Mathis/The Daily Reflector)

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By RONNIE WOODWARD
The Daily Reflector

Saturday, February 17, 2018

East Carolina baseball’s pitching depth was materializing during the offseason as a strength and it has proven true during two days of action against Western Carolina at Clark-LeClair Stadium.

Tyler Smith was the key in relief Saturday, preserving the Pirates’ early lead to the tune of four scoreless innings and helping ECU cruise to an 8-2 victory against the Catamounts.

Starter Jake Agnos had a short outing of three innings, which was characterized by 73 pitches (41 strikes) with four strikeouts and three walks. He gave up two runs on three hits.

Smith, who pushed in the preseason for a weekend starting rotation spot, came in and earned the pitching victory thanks to no runner getting past second base during his outing. He gave way to Matt Bridges in the eighth with the Pirates (2-0) leading 8-2.

“I know I wanted Agnos to go as long as he can because he is a great pitcher, but when that time comes, I know I just have to get mentally locked in real quick,” said Smith, a sophomore right-hander who posted a 3.95 ERA in 27 appearances last year.

Bridges pitched a scoreless eighth and West Covington a clean ninth to give the Pirates a total of six relievers with no earned runs in 10 innings so far on opening weekend.

“Hopefully we can keep piecing it together and using guys, because we definitely have more depth than we’ve ever had here,” ECU fourth-year coach Cliff Godwin said.

East Carolina and confident hitter Spencer Brickhouse put up a five-run rally in the bottom of the first inning to gain control.

Nick Barber, who was playing for Turner Brown (hamstring) at shortstop, drew a walk to begin the bottom of the first and that was followed by singles from Bryant Packard, Alec Burleson and Dwanya Williams-Sutton for a 2-0 ECU edge. Brickhouse, who hit a home run on a two-strike breaking pitch Friday, faced a 2-2 count and saw another curveball and sent it over the wall in right field for a 5-0 lead.

It was his only hit in the game after a 3-for-5 performance in the season-opener. Barber, Packard and Burleson each went 2-for-4.

“We try to keep that (two-strike) approach as best as we can and I just happened to get one on the barrel and let if fly,” Brickhouse said. “It’s good to have those guys in front of me to give me the chance to get some RBIs. It’s always good to have those caliber of hitters in front of me.”

The Pirates led 7-2 after the second inning and it stayed that way until the hosts pushed across a run in the seventh on an error.

WCU starter Taylor Purus settled in after his rough first frame and pitched into the seventh inning, allowing seven runs on seven hits.

After both teams recorded nine hits on Friday, the Pirates enjoyed a 10-7 advantage in Game 2 of the series.

“Obviously Jake didn’t have his best stuff today, but I told him that if you are not going to pitch good then make sure you do it when we score a lot of runs,” Godwin said. “He did that, and you saw with Tyler Smith why we feel like he can pitch in the (weekend) rotation.”

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

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