We talked about how poorly East Carolina had fared in league play entering this past weekend against Cincinnati. With losses in all nine American Athletic Conference games, the normally strong Pirates looked a bit sea sick. (Side note: writing about the Pirates is excellent fun for the nautical puns alone).
It appeared that ECU was headed for another terrible weekend on Friday, as the Bearcats claimed an 8-2 victory in the opener, but the Pirates turned things around in the last two games, smashing their way to two wins by outscoring the Bearcats 20-3. UC is now 20-20 overall and 5-7 in league action, while ECU improved to 22-19 overall and 2-10 against the AAC. Boy, that still looks ugly.
Now that I’ve spoiled the outcomes, let’s unbox those results.
Game One - Cincinnati 8, East Carolina 2
I’m not ready to say J.T. Perez is back, but I’m ready to say that he still has what it takes to be a shutdown starter. The lefty dazzled in easily his best start of the season on Friday night, paying off Ty Neal’s change of rotation order. Perez zipped through seven innings, scattering seven hits and striking out eight batters while allowing zero runs. It pushed his ERA down below 4.00 and earned him his second win of the campaign. His counterpart, Trey Benton, surrendered four runs (three earned) in 5 1⁄3 innings of work, and the Bearcats kept pushing once they got into the Pirates’ bullpen.
UC scored those eight runs despite a lack of home runs and a 1-for-10 showing from its three to five hitters. However, the top of the order and the bottom got the job done. Leadoff man R.J. Thompson is now flirting with .300 after going 2-for-4 with a run scored. A.J. Bumpass had another day at the office (2-for-5) and Joey Thomas, Manny Rodriguez and Treg Haberkorn each had two hits apiece, with the latter having two and three RBI, respectively.
Game Two - East Carolina 6, Cincinnati 0
After pounding out eight runs, the tank was empty in game two for UC. Connor McVey hit a single to center field in the bottom of the first inning but that was it. After McVey’s single, the Bearcats did not record another hit as ECU starter Evan Kruczynski twirled eight nearly perfect innings after which Matt Bridges tossed a scoreless ninth.
David Orndorff didn’t pitch all that well as the starter, allowing five runs over 5 2⁄3 innings. Clayton Colvin surrendered a run as well and that was all she wrote.
Obviously the offensive showing was difficult to watch, but what is more frightening was the absence of Andrew Zellner, who was demoted from Friday starter but then didn’t even get the Saturday nod and didn’t pitch Sunday either. Things there may be worse than we know.
Game Three - East Carolina 14, Cincinnati 3
Maybe its a good thing Zellner didn’t pitch Sunday because the Pirates certainly brought the heavy lumber in the series finale. Powered by catcher Travis Watkins, who went 4-for-4 with a home run, three runs and four RBI, ECU banged out 16 hits and 14 runs, doing damage against every UC pitcher to take the hill. A.J. Kullman took the worst of it, surrendering five runs in just one inning to take the loss.
On the offensive side of the world, the Bearcats got two-hit games from R.J. Thompson, Eric Santiago and Manny Rodriguez, the latter of whom has really turned it up in the recent weeks, even as he remains at the bottom of the order.
Series MVP - J.T. Perez
If UC is going to make a run toward any type of postseason success, it needs more outings like Perez had on Friday. The left-hander needed 109 pitches to get through seven shutout innings and he really had the strikeout pitch working. He has taken the mantle of staff ace from Zellner, with a 3.90 ERA and a team-high in innings pitched (57 2⁄3 ) and strikeouts (46).
No weekday baseball for the Beearcats during NFL Draft week as they are off until next Friday when they start at three-game series at UConn.