GREENVILLE - Jeff Hoffman struck out nine batters, while Zach Houchins and Travis Watkins each drove in multiple runs helping East Carolina to its first win of the 2013 season Thursday night over Illinois, 8-2, in the first game of the 10th Annual Keith LeClair Classic. The four-day annual event is being held at Lewis Field inside Clark-LeClair Stadium.
Trailing 1-0 going to the bottom of the fourth, ECU's Houchins made a statement with his first Pirate hit of the season, sending an 0-1 offering from Kevin Johnson (1-1) down the left field line for a two-run homer, giving the Pirates a 2-1 lead which they would never relinquish. With two outs in the frame, Dylan Brown singled to center and came around on Houchins line drive blast that cleared the left field wall by two feet.
Hoffman, who suffered the opening day loss to nationally-ranked Virginia, evened his record at 1-1 following a solid pitching performance where he allowed just one run (earned) on six hits with a walk to go along with his season-high nine punch outs in 6.2 innings. The right-hander from Latham, N.Y. fanned at least one batter in four of six full frames including the side in the sixth. At one point, he retired nine straight Illinois batters before giving up a single in the sixth with two outs. Dylan Dickens tossed a scoreless inning of relief surrendering a hit, while Grayson Bailey allowed one hit in his Pirate debut. Tyler Bolton closed out the game tossing 1.1 innings allowing a run on three walks with a pair of strikeouts.
Johnson was tagged for six runs (all earned) on seven hits in 5.2 innings. The right-hander allowed three walk and struck out six before he was lifted for Rob McDonnell in the sixth. McDonnell worked just one-third of a frame allowing a walk, while Charlie Naso was touched for two runs (both earned) on three hits with a pair of walks in two-thirds of an inning. Andrew Mamlic finished the game retiring all four Pirates he faced.
For the third time in four games ECU (1-3) fell behind early. Illinois (1-3) scored in the top of the first on Jordan Parr's single through the right side with two outs. David Hendrickson drew an opening frame walk then moved into scoring position after stealing second base of the young season before crossing home Jordan Parr's lone hit of the night.
ECU sent nine batters to the plate in the sixth scoring four runs to extend its lead to 6-1. Drew Reynolds started the stanza with a double to right center and came around to score on Nick Thompson's ground-rule double to left center with one out. Brown followed with a ground out to short that moved Thompson over to third before Houchins and Garrett Brooks followed with consecutive walks to load the bases. All three runners moved up 90 feet on a Johnson wild pitch before Watkins cleared the bases with a two-run single through the right side pushing ECU's lead to five, 6-1.
The Pirates continued to manufacture runs in the seventh scoring a pair on Brooks RBI single and Watkins bases loaded walk, which extended the lead to 8-1. Reynolds once again led off with a hit, this time a single through the right side. Chase McDonald followed with a single to left moving Reynolds to second. Thompson followed with a walk to load the bases for Brown, who flied out to shallow right field for the first out. After Naso got Houchins to go down swinging, Brooks reached on an infield single behind the bag at second plating Reynolds and keep the bases loaded for Watkins, who walked scoring McDonald for the Pirates final run of the game.
Illinois scored in the top of the ninth with two outs on a Bolton wild pitch capping the scoring at 8-2.
All nine Pirate starters recorded a hit on the night with Reynolds leading the way going 2-for-5 and posting his third-straight multi-hit game. Justin Parr led the Fighting Illini with two hits, while his twin brother Jordan accounted for the lone RBI.
Due to potential inclement weather forecasted in the area on Friday, the Pirates will now play host to Boston College at 6 p.m. (EST). Originally ECU was slated to play New Mexico State, but school officials altered the schedule due to the projected weather conditions. Second day action in the LeClair Classic will start at 10 a.m. with Ohio squaring off against Illinois, which will be followed by New Mexico State and Ohio at 2 p.m.