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Options working for ECU bullpen

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East Carolina's Ryan Ross high-fives players as he heads to the dugout during a home game this season.

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By RONNIE WOODWARD
The Daily Reflector

Friday, April 27, 2018

East Carolina baseball has four relief pitchers with an ERA under 1.65.

The quartet spans from two seniors — left-handed Ryan Ross and fifth-year righty Davis Kirkpatrick -— to the recent emergence of junior college transfer Zach Barnes being used in key situations and the strong presence of hard-throwing freshman Gavin Williams.

Ross is the team leader in saves (five) and appearances (19), which is accompanied by a sense of pride among relievers for the seventh-ranked Pirates (30-9, 8-4) as they prepare to host Houston (25-16, 10-5) this weekend in a battle for first place in the American Athletic Conference.

“I feel good and I can’t really complain because I love it,” Ross, who has a 1.62 ERA, said of being first in appearances. “Davis is right there with me, too, so we always make it fun and joke about that. It’s a good time.”

Ross might be ECU’s top relief option at the moment, but the Pirates are thriving on the mound while not having a clear-cut closer. It has worked, as the Pirates are tied for the AAC lead in saves with 12.

Five different players have at least one save, including now-weekend starters Alec Burleson and Tyler Smith. Burleson has four and Smith one.

“Obviously Burleson has done it and Davis has done it and Ryan Ross and Gavin have done it, but we also have a lot of confidence that Jake (Agnos) can do it and now Trey Benton,” coach Cliff Godwin said. “We have a lot of guys who can pitch on the back end, which is a good thing to have.”

Greenville native Kirkpatrick boasts a 2-0 record and team-best 1.27 ERA in 17 appearances.

Ross, who threw 16 innings in 2017 in his rookie year with the Pirates, has had four outings last at least three innings this season. During April, the lefty who has a knack for racking up strikeouts with his breaking pitches has totaled 14 1/3 frames and yielded one run on six hits.

“Last year I wasn’t as consistent, and it’s just about trusting my stuff against (hitters),” he said. “That’s what we always talk about is that our stuff is better than the guy who gets in the batter’s box. We have nine guys against the one guy who gets in the box, and we talk about that too.”

WEEKEND WATCH

Joe Davis, Houston: The 6-foot, 230-pound junior only has three home runs this year, but he is a proven offensive threat behind his 14 homers as a freshman and 46 RBIs from a year ago.

Tyler Smith, East Carolina: Winning series finales has been key to the Pirates’ season. Smith, who last weekend had a solid bounce-back start of five innings with two runs allowed against Memphis, is back in the Sunday role as ECU in the midst of the AAC championship race.

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

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ECU

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