East Carolina sophomore outfielder Dwanya Williams-Sutton circles the bases after a home run earlier this season at Clark-LeClair Stadium in Greenville. Williams-Sutton has missed 20 of the Pirates’ 30 games due to a thumb injury.
Walter Powell | 247Sports.com
Running back Hussein Howe, center, looks for room to run during East Carolina’s spring football scrimmage in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium on Saturday.
Stephen Igoe | 247Sports.com
By Stephen Igoe
Special to the Times
East Carolina’s baseball team entered the 2017 season with plenty of expectations, but a pair of key injuries and the inability to execute the little things have hurt the Pirates over a recent rough stretch.
Tuesday’s agonizing defeat at No. 4 North Carolina inside Boshamer Stadium in Chapel Hill moved the Pirates’ losing streak to four, and ECU is now 5-8 over its last 13 games, dropping to 18-12 on the season and well out of the national Top 25.
Wilson native and star outfielder Dwanya Williams-Sutton’s recent return seemed to spark ECU over a four-game winning streak that led into last week until the Pirates were swept by UConn this past weekend in opening American Athletic Conference action, with Williams-Sutton re-injuring his thumb in the process.
After missing 18 games, Williams-Sutton hit the ball extremely well over a nine-game span until exiting Saturday’s loss to the Huskies. Head coach Cliff Godwin said Williams-Sutton actually re-injured his thumb taking batting practice.
“He took a swing in BP and just re-aggravated it,” Godwin said. “Look, when you’re facing 92-95 mph, we knew it was going to bother him. We were playing with dynamite and were hoping the dynamite wouldn’t explode. But it exploded (Saturday), so we’ll go from there.”
The Pirates have been without ace and senior leader Evan Kruczynski since the third week of the season, and the left-hander remains in a walking boot with no timetable for a return.
Nonetheless, ECU had its chances Tuesday against the Tar Heels to turn its season around with a big rivalry win.
Instead, the Pirates left 12 runners on base, struck out 14 times and scored just one of five runners who reached third base with less than two outs in a rough defeat.
ECU’s bullpen pitched eight shutout innings until Joe Ingle walked the bases loaded and North Carolina won it on a walk-off, two-out single in the bottom of the 11th.
“The guys played really hard and I thought they really competed their butts off,” Godwin said. “I thought we played tremendous defense. I thought our pitching was phenomenal. We left some guys out there on the base paths, and if we execute one here, then we’re probably not playing in extra innings.”
For a team once ranked in the preseason top 10, the Pirates are now on the bubble of just making the tournament at all as conference play gets ramped up. Already 0-3 in AAC action, ECU is scheduled to travel to Top 25 foe Houston this weekend.
“It’s been something different every game,” Godwin said. “Yeah it was a hit here (at UNC), but most of the time, it’s been a pitch. … It seems to happen in different ways. We’re going to figure it out. We’re going to be fine. I’m not hitting the panic button because I know the talent that we have on our team and the leadership that we have on our team.”
OFFENSE OWNS FIRST SCRIMMAGE
Typically in offseason workouts, the defense is ahead of the offense when it comes time for the first scrimmage.
That theory didn’t apply at all to East Carolina’s first official tune-up inside Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium this past Saturday.
ECU’s offense — led by starting quarterback Gardner Minshew — racked up 547 yards and 10 touchdowns.
“We got an inordinate of offense in, which I like,” head coach Scottie Montgomery said. “Defensively, I thought we gave up too many big plays. I thought we had them off-balance from an offense-to-defense standpoint.”
True freshman quarterback Kingsley Ifedi did not participate in the scrimmage as Minshew and redshirt freshman Reid Herring took all the reps. Minshew went 8-of-16 for 215 yards and three touchdowns to one pick. Herring went 9-of-13 for 155 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions.
“Obviously we had some good plays, but also two bad turnovers from me,” Herring said. “Other than that, felt pretty good about the plays we were making. We were throwing the ball well, good O-line play and the running backs were definitely running the ball well.”
As for the defensive struggles on the back-end, sophomore starting cornerback Colby Gore said the team’s new 4-2-5 defensive scheme and learning different terminology with a new secondary coach led to some first-game confusion.
“Too many blown coverages on the back-end,” Gore said. “The communication was pretty good as far as our alignment and everything. We’ve just got to play with better eyes and know our coverages faster.”
ECU will conduct its second spring scrimmage this coming Friday before later wrapping up spring practice with the annual Purple-Gold spring game on Saturday, April 22.
ECU LANDS 3RD COMMITMENT
East Carolina hosted its biggest recruiting weekend of the spring during its scrimmage, welcoming in more than 50 prospects, including almost two dozen prospects who held offers.
The Pirates made a number of strides with several of the recruits, and gained its third commitment of the class in the process when Greensboro native and Southeast Guilford defensive end Trey Love committed.
Love chose ECU over an offer from Charlotte and heavy interest from North Carolina.
“They’ve been with me since the 10th grade and have stuck with me the whole time, and have had my back,” Love said. “They showed a lot of support when I got there, and when I got there, it was like family. The vibe, the connection, how they got connected with my mom. Everybody connected so easily.
“I talked to some of the players and it just felt like home. It was one of the best visits I went to.”
Love, a three-star by 247Sports, joins fellow in-state recruits quarterback Holton Ahlers (D.H. Conley) and center Peyton Winstead (Leesville Road) as commits for the 2018 class.
Stephen Igoe is the publisher of the East Carolina 247Sports website Hoist The Colours. Check out more of his work at eastcarolina.247sports.com.