ECU, UNCW baseball teams heading in opposite directions

UNC and NC State struggled, losing two of three each this weekend while Wake Forest and Duke went unbeaten against nonconference opponents

ECU photo by Dave Goldberg Jr.—ECU photo by Dave Goldberg Jr.
Travis Watkins makes good contact during East Carolina's 7-4 win against St. John's at the Keith LeClair Classic in Greenville on Saturday

East Carolina and UNC Wilmington entered the 2017 baseball season with high expectations and national rankings. One is on its way to fulfilling its promise heading three weeks into the nonconference schedule while the other is struggling just to win a game. The Pirates extended their winning streak to eight since getting swept in its season opening series at Ole Miss by going undefeated at its Keith LeClair Classic in Greenville this weekend while the Seahawks dropped three to Florida Gulf Coast and have now lost seven in a row since a 3-0 start. ECU (8-3) needed some dramatics to post its unblemished slate in the tournament named after its former coach, who passed away in 2006 after a courageous battle against ALS. On Friday, it had to overcome a 3-0 deficit before claiming a 5-4 victory against Western Carolina on a walkoff, bases loaded walk by Luke Bolka. Brady Lloyd, Charlie Yorgen and Turner Brown each singled to load the bases before Bolka drew his one-out walk on four straight pitches. Saturday, Travis Watkins scored the go-ahead run on a wild pitch and Brown added a two-run double in a four-run eighth that gave the Pirates a 7-4 win against No. 16 St. John’s. Freshman right-hander Trey Benton finished the weekend in style on Sunday by striking out eight and allowing only two hits in seven scoreless innings for a 4-0 shutout of Appalachian State. While ECU had a knack for getting the big hit at the right time, UNCW had the opposite luck. The Seahawks went 0 for 7 with the bases loaded in its three games against FGC while hitting only .198 as a team. Its pitching, meanwhile, surrendered 21 walks on the way to getting swept in a nonconference weekend series at home for the first time since 1998. UNCW’s four home losses this season already surpass last year’s total of three. Kennard McDowell hit his first homer of the season in Friday’s 5-3 loss, but the Seahawks weren’t able to recover from allowing three runs in the top of the sixth. Terence Connelly accounted for their only run with an RBI single in the eighth of a 5-1 loss Saturday and a Casey Golden homer in the seventh was all the offense coach Mark Scalf’s team could muster in a 10-1 drubbing Sunday. UNCW wasn’t the only state college team to have a tough weekend. After having its season-opening eight-game win streak snapped by St. John’s in mid-week, North Carolina dropped two of three to Long Beach State while NC State, which also lost on Wednesday, lost two of three as part of the Irish Classic in Cary. The Tar Heels (9-3) lost 5-2 on Friday after it’s bullpen allowed four runs over the final two innings after ace J.B. Bukauskas left with a 2-1 lead. On Saturday, freshman Luca Dalatri suffered his first college loss as his offense mustered only five hits — three of which were by Zack Gahagan — in a 4-1 loss. UNC salvaged the final game of the series with an 8-5 victory behind Tyler Lynn’s two-run triple in the fifth and freshman Ike Freeman’s first career homer in the eighth. The Wolfpack, meanwhile, was beaten 5-2 by Rhode Island on Friday and 9-2 on Saturday by Maryland before bouncing back for an 8-0 whitewashing or UMass Lowell. Josh McLain was the only State hitter to have success against Rhode Island’s preseason All-American left-hander Tyler Wilson in the weekend opener, picking up three of his team’s six hits — including a homer. Starting pitcher Cory Wilder didn’t make it out of the first inning in Saturday’s loss to former ACC rival Maryland, in which Shane Shepard provided one of the only highlights with his second homer of the year. Freshman Dalton Feeney got the win in the Sunday victory by allowing only a pair of singles over six innings of work. Freshman Will Wilson had two hits for the Wolfpack (6-5) while Joe Dunand hit a solo homer. Elsewhere in the ACC, Wake Forest and Duke both went unbeaten this weekend. The Deacons (9-4) beat Quinnipiac 2-1 in 11 innings on Friday before taking two from Kent on Saturday — 7-2 and 5-0 — and beating Radford 18-7 on Sunday. They tied the game against Quinnipiac in the eighth on a single by Jake Mueller, then won it on a one-out single by Logan Harvey in the bottom of the 11th. Saturday’s doubleheader sweep of Kent was keyed by a pitching staff that allowed only one earned run and six hits over 18 innings. Ace Parker Dunshee got the win in the first game with six strong innings while Mueller and Johnny Aiello had three hits apiece. Donnie Sellers and Morgan McSweeney combined for the three-hit shutout in the nightcap. Wake’s potent bats then took center stage in Sunday’s rout of Radford, in which Bruce Steel and Zach Seal each hit grand slams and Gavin Sheets added a three-run homer while Ben Breazeale went 4 for 4 with two doubles and three RBI. In Durham, meanwhile, Duke (4-6) used strong pitching to win all four games it played against Princeton. James Ziemba got the win in a 3-1 victory Friday that saw Jack Labosky get both an RBI double and the save on the mound. Saturday’s doubleheader sweep started with a 9-2 win that saw the Blue Devils score five times in the third without putting a ball in play and finished with a 7-1 triumph highlighted by the 11-strikeout performance of pitcher Mitch Stallings. Griffin Conine reached base in seven of his nine plate appearances in the two games, going 3 for 5 with four runs, three walks and two RBI. The Blue Devils wrapped up the series on Sunday with a 6-1 win in which Ryan Day pitched six shutout innings and 7-8-9 hitters Zack Kone, Erikson Nichols and Kennie Taylor combined for five hits, five runs and two RBI. Elsewhere around the state, Charlotte followed up its win at NC State on Wednesday by winning two of three on the weekend against Xavier. The 49ers (9-3) got RBI from T.J. Nichting and Logan Sherer and a strong start from Colton Laws to win 2-1 on Friday. Zach Jarrett had four RBI and Josh Maciejewski struck out 11 in eight innings of Saturday’s 7-1 win before Xavier prevented the sweep by cranking out five homers in a 7-6 win on Sunday. Appalachian State lost two out of three at the LeClair Classic in Greenville, falling 7-3 to St. John’s on Friday and 4-0 to host ECU on Sunday between a 7-3 win against Western Carolina in which Matt Vernon had three hits and two RBI from Connor Leonard.