East Carolina never faced a deficit on the Clark-LeClair Stadium scoreboard versus Rhode Island during college baseball’s opening weekend, but the Pirates had to succeed in some stressful situations in order to put away the Rams for a series sweep.
No. 25 ECU leaned on sixth-year senior Cam Colmore for an extremely clutch sequence of pitches when the Friday night game was tied during the ninth inning, then Christian Smallwood delivered the game-ending hit in the bottom of the 10th with a chopper over the third baseman’s head for a 3-2 victory. Veteran catcher Seth Caddell hit the Pirates’ first home run of the season Saturday and it was Connor Norby who later delivered the clutch hit in a 7-1 win, clearing the bases with a three-run double to right field in the seventh inning.
Freshman Carson Whisenhunt shined Sunday in his first-career start with 10 strikeouts in four innings as part of a 12-4 win to seal the sweep. He left the game with ECU up 3-2 and watched Danny Beal, C.J. Mayhue and other relievers protect the lead.
“To have Carson be in some pressure-packed moments early in his first-career start, that’s good for him,” Pirate coach Cliff Godwin said. “Getting Danny Beal, another freshman, out there when it was a one-run game ... there are a lot of positives and we used the bench definitely a lot on Friday and (Sunday). That’s a good thing the more times we can keep getting guys out there and put them in those situations, the better we’re going to be down the road. ... No, we didn’t trail, but we were tied and went into extra innings and we were tested and were in a 3-2 game.
“We had to keep grinding, and they would score and our guys had to bounce back. You’re going to have some games where you have to take a blow, throw a blow, take a blow and weather the storm.”
Whisenhunt walked one Ram and allowed two runs on three hits, throwing his fastball consistently at 91 or 92 mph and mixing in sharp breaking pitches early in counts to set up strikeouts. The left-hander struck out the final five batters he faced.
This came one year and six days after his lone appearance last season, facing three batters and not recording an out.
“Last year, I was a lot more nervous and kind of felt I had to prove something that I didn’t need to do,” he said. “I felt like I did too much. This year, I feel like I am just going out there and controlling what I can and filling up the zone and letting the defense work.”
Rhode Island totaled 16 hits and 10 errors in the series.
Norby hit .500 (6-for-12) with a run scored and a team-high four RBIs. Saturday starting pitcher Jake Kuchmaner threw five scoreless innings with three strikeouts and no walks.
Calling on Colmore
ECU used the best of its bullpen to win on opening day, beginning with Matt Bridges and then A.J. Wilson, Mayhue, Garrett Saylor and Colmore.
The Rams were looking for an upset victory when Godwin turned to Colmore to relieve Saylor behind on a 2-0 count with the bases loaded and the score tied 2-2 with one out. The count was 3-1 when Colmore calmly induced a clean 6-4-3 double play to quash the threat and shift momentum back to the hosts.
“Cam Colmore deserves to be in that situation, and that’s why we brought him in,” Godwin said. “We knew he would throw strikes.”
Colmore threw 16 pitches in 1.2 innings for the victory and threw 16 more Saturday, yielding an unearned run on one hit with two strikeouts in his lone frame. The Winterville native is on a streak of eight straight appearances without allowing an earned run and 12 of his last 13, dating back to the 2019 season.
“Cam bounces back pretty good, but I thought he just wasn’t as fresh (Saturday) as he was the last night,” Godwin said. “The situation he was in (Friday) night, it’s the stress pitches. People look at pitch counts, but it’s also stress pitches. I thought Cam had a lot of stressful pitches (Friday) night and of course more (Saturday).”
Mayhue pitched a total of three scoreless innings in the series, allowing three hits with five strikeouts and no walks.
East Carolina improved a few spots in the The D1baseball.com Top 25, moving from 25th to No. 22. Duke, which opened by winning two of three at Coastal Carolina, entered at No. 25 ahead of the ECU-Duke game for Tuesday at 4 p.m. at Clark-LeClair Stadium.
Ole Miss was the new No. 1 for this week, followed in order by Arkansas, Vanderbilt, Louisville and Mississippi State to form the top five.