ECU resurgence, UNCW power highlight weekend baseball action

The return of two injured stars helped the Pirates win their first AAC series of the season while the Seahawks played home run derby in a record-setting Sunday to cap a weekend that saw UNC stay hot and NC State fall flat

ECU photo—ECU photo
Ace pitcher Evan Kruczynski earned his first win of the season for the Pirates by throwing eight shutout innings in Saturday's 6-0 victory at Cincinnati

The East Carolina baseball team began climbing out of the 0-9 hole it dug for itself in the American Athletic Conference by winning its first league series of the year this weekend. But that wasn’t the most encouraging aspect of the trip to Cincinnati for coach Cliff Godwin’s hard-luck team. The Pirates’ hopes for a turnaround over the final month of the season got a major boost with the resurgence of stars Evan Kruczynski and Danya Williams-Sutton. Kruczynski, in just his second start since returning from a foot injury, earned his first victory of the season in Saturday’s 6-0 shutout of the Bearcats. The ace left-hander earned AAC Pitcher of the Week honors by allowing only a single hit while striking out six and retiring 24 of the 25 hitters he faced over eight shutout innings, All-American outfielder Williams-Sutton, who has missed 27 games with a thumb injury, homered in the victory. Building on the momentum after finally breaking the ice in conference play, the Pirates (22-19, 2-10) went on to a 14-3 win on Sunday a 4-4 performance from Travis Watkins and three hits from Charlie Yorgen. Yorgen was named the AAC’s Player of the Week for picking up eight hits and driving in four runs in the three games. Including a mid-week victory against UNC Wilmington, The senior second baseman hit .684 (13 for 19) with a homer, a triple, five runs scored and five driven in for the week. ECU wasn’t the only state team looking to get back on track after an unexpectedly slow start this season. UNC Wilmington (18-20, 7-5 CAA) won its second straight conference series by taking two of three on the road at Hofstra. In the process, the Seahawks set a school record by hitting six home runs in the eighth inning of Sunday’s 20-7 rout of the Pride. Ryan Jeffers, Riley Zayicek, Mason Berne and Robbie Thorburn started the home run derby by hitting consecutive long balls. Then, three batters later, Nick Feight and Brian Mims went back-to-back again. Zayicek also homered earlier in the day to give his team seven for the day — tying a school record also set at Hofstra in 2003. UNCW won the first game of the series 7-4 on Friday behind three hits from Casey Golden and two RBI from Feight. They wasted homers from Jeffers and Mims and a solid six-inning pitching performance by Logan Beehler on Sunday in a 6-3 loss that saw Hofstra score all of its runs in the final three innings. Among ACC teams this weekend, North Carolina became one of four teams to clinch spots in the upcoming league tournament while hitting the 30-win mark for the 20th straight season by winning two of three at Pittsburgh. Ace J.B. Bukauskas had eight strikeouts while Tyler Lynn had three hits and three RBI in a 5-2 win on Friday. Freshman Gianluca Dalatri continued his strong pitching by allowing just one run over 8⅔ innings Saturday to beat the Panthers’ 3-1. The Tar Heels (31-9, 16-5 ACC) didn’t get their first hit until Brandon Riley’s single in the eighth. But Riley scored on a wild pitch and Brian Miller drove in two with a two-out double to provide all the offense their team needed. Pittsburgh avoided the sweep on Sunday by holding on for an 11-9 in in the series finale despite a homer and two doubles by Miller and a three-run homer by Riley. A little further north in Massachusetts, NC State saw its fading NCAA tournament hopes take a major hit with three straight losses in a rain-delayed series at Boston College — including an 8-3 setback at Fenway Park on Saturday in the sixth annual ALS Awareness Game. The game was played in honor of former BC star Pete Frates and the Wolfpack’s Chris Combs, both of whom are suffering from ALS. State (20-20, 8-13) fell behind by allowing four runs in the first and never caught up despite two hits and two RBI from Brad Debo. The Wolfpack then got swept in a Sunday doubleheader that saw it score only one run in the two games to waste effective six-plus inning starts by pitchers Brian Brown and Michael Bienlein. Andy Cosgrove’s fifth inning sacrifice fly and Evan Mendoza’s two hits were the only offense State could muster in a 2-1 opening game loss. The Wolfpack got only three hits while losing the nightcap 1-0. At Clemson, Wake Forest’s weekend got off to an ominous start when the Tigers scored three times in the bottom of the ninth — with the final two coming on bases loaded walks — to steal an 8-7 victory. Johnny Aiello had three hits and Gavin Sheets had a homer and two RBI for the Deacons in the heartbreaking loss to their sixth-ranked opp