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WOODWARD: Former Vikes thriving under pressure

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East Carolina's Bryant Packard hits a single against Pepperdine on March 2, 2018. (Molly Mathis/The Daily Reflector)

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By RONNIE WOODWARD
The Daily Reflector

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The process of transitioning from a high school baseball star in Pitt County to a standout at East Carolina can be humbling and in some cases never materialize.

There is extra pressure on those players, especially if they went to J.H. Rose or D.H. Conley, and too often they fizzle out.

Conley products Bryant Packard and Davis Kirkpatrick have been outstanding this season for ECU, which is ranked No. 13 by Baseball America and ninth by D1baseball.com for the final week of the regular season, and their stories are much more about sizzle than fizzle.

They are calmly excelling on the field and composed when facing the local media, a sign that their successes are no fluke.

Packard, a sophomore whose MLB draft draft stock for next year seemingly rises with every smooth left-handed swing, should be an All-American by the end of his likely record-breaking campaign. He has a 28-game hit streak and a hit tonight against Campbell at Clark-LeClair Stadium will tie the ECU record of 29 by Stephen Batts in 2007.

Packard’s season statistics are staggering: a .404 batting average, 38 runs scored, 11 doubles, 12 home runs and 44 RBIs in 44 games. The 2016 Conley graduate has done all of this while not playing at 100 percent because of a lingering back issue.

Even his teammates are in awe.

“I have never seen anything like that and it’s just scary,” shortstop Turner Brown said.

Packard has enjoyed a relatively smooth ride since his storied prep career for the Vikings.

Kirkpatrick’s college career has been more up and down, and it included Tommy John surgery in 2014.

The most remarkable statistic for the fifth-year senior right-hander and 2013 graduate of D.H. Conley is his team-best 0.96 ERA, which is way down from the 5.25 mark of a season ago. It was 6.48 and 5.87 in his other two active seasons.

Like Packard, Kirkpatrick has gotten better as this year has progressed.

The only run he has allowed since March 30 was a lone tally against South Florida on April 15 during an outing that lasted 3 1/3 innings. Kirkpatrick has pitched eight times since then and is on an 11-inning scoreless streak.

“What a time it has been here for my career and you can’t explain the fans and it has been an unbelievable experience,” he said Sunday after the Pirates’ comeback series win over Cincinnati. “It has been the best time of my life and I am nothing but appreciative for this university and everything it has done for me.”

Kirkpatrick has probably earned a game off after pitching in four straight contests.

Packard should be in his usual leadoff spot in the batting order tonight either as the designated hitter or an outfielder. Many eyes will be on his at-bats to see if he gets a hit to extend his streak to 29 games.

No pressure? My guess is no issue.

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

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