ECU Completes Sweep of No. 24 UCF
East Carolina is playing its best baseball of the season at precisely the right time. The Pirates completed their first series sweep of an American Conference opponent with a 6-5 victory against No. 24 Central Florida on Sunday afternoon. With just 11 games remaining in the regular season, ECU (29-16, 9-6 American) has now won six straight one-run games and nine of its last 10 to earn itself at least a share of second place in the American Conference standings. This weekend also marked the Pirates’ first three-game sweep of a ranked opponent in eight years (No. 7 Cal State Fullerton, 2007) and just their second since 1998. “The expectations of this program is not just to go 5-0 and beat two ACC teams (in a week),” first-year ECU coach Cliff Godwin said. “The expectation is to go to Omaha, and that’s what we talk about all the time. Yes, this was a step in the right direction, but we’ve got to keep winning games to put ourselves in a position to play in postseason.” However, just like it was for each of the first five games of the winning streak, recording the final out proved to be difficult. With ECU leading 6-2, reliever Jimmy Boyd allowed three straight hits to lead off the ninth inning before giving way to David Lucroy. After fielding a liner to begin a 1-3 double play, Lucroy allowed an RBI double, then threw 10 straight balls — one of which resulted in a passed ball that crossed another UCF (26-19, 5-10 American) run — and suddenly, the deficit was only one. With lefty Nick Durazo unavailable due to soreness, Godwin turned to freshman Evan Voliva to get the final out. And with the bases loaded, pinch-hitter Logan Heiser flew out to right field to end the game. “Did you really think it was going to be easy?” Godwin asked reporters after the game, laughing. Junior centerfielder Garrett Brooks added, “I knew we had it. Yeah, it’s nerve-racking at times, but I’ve got faith in all of these guys.” The Pirates applied most of their damage in the bottom of the first inning. With the bases loaded and one out, Hunter Allen, who notched a lead-off single to extend his hits streak to 14 games, scored on a wild pitch from UCF starter Robby Howell (4-6). On the next pitch, Luke Lowery crushed a Howell changeup for his team-leading ninth home run of the season — his first since March 15 — to make the score 4-0 ECU. It wasn’t just the offense that was clicking for the Pirates, however. There was plenty of smart, heads-up base running on Sunday. In addition to Allen scoring on the first-inning wild pitch, Brooks used a great jump at first base to advance to third base on an infield groundball in the second inning. Brooks’ speed led to an errant throw from UCF first baseman James Vasquez on the play, which allowed Brooks to score and stretch ECU’s lead to 5-0. A day after belting his first career home run, Brooks also made the play that highlighted the Pirates’ defense against the Knights. On a sacrifice fly attempt in the fifth inning, Brooks javelined a dart from shallow centerfield to throw out UCF’s Erik Barber at the plate and end a promising scoring threat. Despite tossing six innings in a start against N.C. State on Tuesday, sophomore left-hander Jacob Wolfe (3-1) was back on the mound again and turned in another quality start. Wolfe was charged with two runs in his 6 2/3 innings of work, which ties his career high for innings pitched. ECU will take to the road on Wednesday to face Liberty, who beat the Pirates 4-3 back in February. The midweek matchup was recently scheduled as a makeup game for ECU after its home date with UNC Wilmington on April 14 was cancelled.
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