Watkins' Grand Slam Paces Pirates to 8-1 Win

GREENVILLE, N.C. — ECU (10-6) used a seven-run sixth inning to coast past UNC Greensboro (5-9) 8-1 at Clark-LeClair Stadium Wednesday.

The East Carolina baseball team put itself in several scoring positions in Wednesday’s 8-1 victory against UNC Greensboro, but similar to the problems it had against Campbell on Tuesday, it was a struggle to get that big hit.

Junior catcher Travis Watkins, who lined out into a key double play with the bases loaded against the Camels the night before, had three cracks while the bases were loaded on Wednesday.

Watkins came up empty on his first two-at bats — First, a two-out grounder to second base in the first inning, then a fly ball to center field that set up a play at the plate in which Charlie Yorgen was thrown out by UNC G’s Zac MacAneney for an inning-ending double play — but finally achieved redemption in the bottom of the sixth.

Watkins dug in after the Pirates (10-6) had already crossed three runs in the inning to break a 1-1 tie. Spartans’ (5-9) right-hander Colin Woody’s first offering to Watkins was an outside curveball off the plate. Looking for a fastball, Watkins found one on the next pitch and deposited it into “The Jungle” in left field for a backbreaking grand slam.

“My approach was to get on top of the ball, actually,” said Watkins, “because in tight games like that, a big hit can really be a dagger to the other team. I was just trying to hit something hard, put something in play and trying to score some runs.”

He did all of those things successfully. It was the Pirates’ first slam since 2013 and Watkins’ second career home run, making it 8-1 ECU. The four runs that naturally came along with the home run also marked Watkins' career-high for RBI (4).

“It was real sweet. The grand slam was on our side and not the other side,” first-year ECU coach Cliff Godwin said, referencing Campbell’s sixth-inning grand slam on Tuesday that put the game out of reach. “People talk about hitting in the clutch all the time and until you do it, you don’t know what it feels like. So Travis Watkins knows what it feels like now and now the guys believe we can do it.”

Watkins was named to the Johnny Bench Award Watch List for the third straight season, according to an afternoon press release by the Wichita Sports Commission. The award is annually handed out to the nation's best Division-I catcher.

Shortly after ECU’s seven-run outburst, the game was delayed 40 minutes due to lightning in the top of the seventh inning. Once play resumed, Pirates’ right-hander Joe Ingle came on and inherited a base runner at second base with two outs. Ingle walked the first two batters he faced to load the bases, but resolved to escape the jam — inducing an infield pop-up from left fielder Tyler Long.

Four different Pirates collected multiple hits against the Spartans Wednesday on the team’s way to booking 12 collectively. Coming in to relieve starter Nick Durazo after the lefty tossed four solid innings, junior Kirk Morgan (3-0) was credited with his third win of the year, which ties a team-high despite having never started.

ECU will begin a three-game series Friday at Elon. First pitch is set for 4 p.m. and the Pirates’ weekend rotation of Evan Kruczynski, Jacob Wolfe and David Lucroy is expected to remain unchanged.

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