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Slider helps Benton; Packard 'bruised up'

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East Carolina pitcher Trey Benton prepares to step on to the mound against Utah at Clark-LeClair Stadium on March 2.

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BY RONNIE WOODWARD
The Daily Reflector

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

WILMINGTON — As Trey Benton is still trying to find his niche during an up-and-down season for him, the East Carolina baseball pitcher took a big step Tuesday toward solidifying himself as a late-season midweek starting option.

Benton led the charge among the six pitchers used by No. 8 ECU in a 9-1 routine win over UNC Wilmington, striking out six batters with no walks in 2.2 innings. He left the game during the bottom of the third inning with the Pirates already leading 3-1.

The junior right-hander, a Friday starter in past seasons who remains an MLB draft possibility for this year, displayed a sharp slider in just his second start of the season and first in midweek action.

“I was on a pitch count, so I just went out there and executed like I was coming out of the bullpen and it was nothing different,” said Benton (3-0), who threw 52 pitches and has a season ERA of 5.19 but in his last three outings has yielded one run in 5.1 innings. “I flooded the zone good and had my breaking stuff working. … I think it was easy for hitters to pick up on (my delivery) earlier in the year and I’ve been throwing more of a slider as a breaking ball and it’s stronger and has been easier for me to command.”

A key for ECU’s pitching, which also got scoreless relief outings from Sam Lanier, Cam Colmore, Evan Voliva, Zach Barnes and Garrett Saylor, was shutting down the Seahawks’ main bats.

No. 3 hitter Cole Weiss finished 0-for-4 with three of UNCW’s 14 strikeouts. Cleanup man Brooks Baldwin, who has four home runs and 23 RBIs as a freshman, also was 0-for-4.

The Pirates (25-7), who play at No. 1 UCLA this weekend, scored in six of the nine innings.

“It’s one pitch at a time and honestly we weren’t even thinking about this weekend yet,” said freshman Thomas Francisco, who was 2-for-2 with an RBI single in the top of the second as the Pirates’ starting designated hitter.

ECU will leave Greenville on Thursday morning to begin its trip to Log Angeles. One game is scheduled for Friday night, followed by a Saturday doubleheader.

“We know it is a great opportunity for us and we’re looking forward to going out there and trying to make the most of it,” Francisco said.

Packard update

All-American outfielder Bryant Packard has been limited at times this season by injuries, and Tuesday marked the second straight game with him not in the starting lineup.

Pirate coach Cliff Godwin said Packard, who is third on the team in batting average at .343 and tied with Spencer Brickhouse (.376) with 25 runs scored, was available versus the Seahawks possibly as a designated hitter or pinch hitter.

“Playing on the turf (at Houston) last weekend, he dove and is just bruised up a little bit,” said Godwin, who added that he expects Packard to play Friday. “If we would have needed him it would be for an at-bat or even could have pushed him and DH’d him tonight, but I just didn’t think that it was worth it.”

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

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