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Pirates, pitchers take opener

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East Carolina's Trey Benton throws a pitch during Friday's 2-1 win against North Carolina at Clark-LeClair Stadium. Feb. 23, 2018. (Molly Mathis/The Daily Reflector)

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By RONNIE WOODWARD
The Daily Reflector

Friday, February 23, 2018

From Reid Love blanking North Carolina in Chapel Hill in 2014 to freshman Kevin Brandt beating No. 1 UNC in 2009, some of East Carolina’s wins over UNC in baseball through the years have been marked by outstanding pitching performances.

Add Trey Benton, with an assist from Tyler Smith, to the list.

Benton, a sophomore right-hander, struck out 11 batters and allowed two hits in six innings Friday night at Clark-LeClair Stadium to guide the Pirates to a 2-1 win over the Tar Heels. The weekend series moves to Durham tonight with ECU still unbeaten this season at 5-0 and the sixth-ranked Heels (2-4) suddenly on a three-game losing streak.

Smith capped the victory with three scoreless innings and no hits allowed, helping ECU finish with a 12-2 advantage in hits thanks to the dominance by East Carolina’s two hurlers.

“It was hard not to get emotional and get hyped out there, so with every strikeout I would try to get the crowd into it a little more and that’s just kind of how I pitched,” said Benton, who last season as a freshman had 10 strikeouts in a game twice.

The crowd of 5,382 was the third-largest in stadium history, a few hundred behind the record of 5,581 when Brandt and the Pirates beat top-ranked Carolina 4-0 nine years ago.

Fourth-year coach Cliff Godwin, a former ECU player, was 0-4 against UNC as a coach, including an 11th-inning defeat last year.

“I don’t need to play North Carolina to assess our team. I can tell you that it’s a great experience to win a one-run game in front of 5,300 people,” Godwin said. “That’s what our team needs is to be able to play in front of big crowds and win a one-run game, because last year I don’t know if we would have won this game. … I know it wasn’t the most exciting game for (fans) because it was a pitchers’ duel, but still it made a difference for those guys to be loud.”

ECU scored both of its runs in the bottom of the second inning. The Heels got their lone tally in the third.

Benton sat down Carolina home run leader Michael Busch for his 11th strikeout to end the top of the sixth.

Hard-throwing freshman Gavin Williams and others warmed up in the bullpen during the late innings, but Godwin and ECU stuck with the sophomore Smith for his first-career save.

“It was electric and my first save, but I couldn’t do that without my teammates,” Smith said.

The Pirates totaled eight hits during the first four innings.

Benton retired the Tar Heels’ first six batters, highlighted by striking out the side in order in the top of the second.

The bottom-half of the frame saw Chandler Jenkins hit a double to put him and Jake Washer, who singled, in scoring position with no outs. Connor Litton’s groundout plated Washer, and Andrew Henrickson chopped an RBI single to right field for a 2-0 edge.

Four different Pirates had two hits, including Henrickson going 2-for-2 with an RBI and sacrifice bunt.

“We had two great pitching performances, which we needed, because their pitchers were very good as well,” Godwin said. “Neither pitching staff gave you a lot of free opportunities, so it was tough hitting conditions against very quality pitching.”

Pirate outfielder Dwanya Williams-Sutton, who was hit in the hand by a pitch Wednesday night at Campbell, was not in the starting lineup but came in to play left field in the bottom of the ninth. Henrickson started in center field and ended up playing all three outfield positions by game’s end.

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

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