Kuchmaner throws perfect game, No. 17 ECU sweeps Maryland with 3-0 series finale

After striking out Kody Milton for the final out of the game, East Carolina left-hander Jake Kuchmaner turned to his dugout, gently pumping his fists in the air and grinning. Then, the entire Pirates’ dugout emptied as the team piled on top of the sophomore starter. Kuchmaner had just thrown his first career perfect game.

Maryland (15-6) struggled to produce offensively in the series finals Sunday, falling to No. 17 East Carolina 3-0. With the win, the Pirates swept the Terps for the second consecutive year.

Maryland didn’t get a runner on all game, as  Kuchmaner kept the Terps hitless, giving up no free bases. He went the complete nine innings, striking out eight. It was the sophomore’s first complete game and first perfect game in his career with the Pirates. 

A solo home run from Seth Caddell put the Pirates up 3-0, providing East Carolina with an insurance run, though Kuchmaner didn’t appear to need the additional run as he sent down the Maryland lineup in order again in the ninth.

“We knew he could really pitch,” Maryland head coach Rob Vaughn said of Kuchmaner  after the game. “We just didn’t do a great job of making an adjustment. We let him keep getting us out the same way all day.”

Both teams were slow to start, and though East Carolina (10-8) put at least one runner on base in each of the first six innings, it wasn’t until the sixth that the Pirates pulled ahead and plated any of said runners, taking the 2-0 lead.

After a leadoff double from Spencer Brickhouse, one of East Carolina’s power-batters, a single to right field gave the Pirates runners on the corners with one out. Then, designated hitter Thomas Francisco roped a two-RBI double just out of the reach of a diving Chris Alleyne in right-center field.

With that, Maryland starter Trevor LaBonte’s day was done, and junior Elliot Zoellner took over for the freshman on the mound. LaBonte put up five scoreless innings for the Terps, pitching 5.1 total innings, striking out four on five hits, three walks and one hit-by-pitch.

“[LaBonte] gave us an unbelievable start,” Vaughn said. “[East Carolina] kind of fought some at-bats off and then got the one big swing, but Trevor did a great job.”

Zoellner’s experience as one of Maryland’s older relievers came into play against the first batter he faced, when Brady Lloyd sent a grounder up the middle with one out and a runner on third. Zoellner knocked the ball down, then ran toward the pinch-runner Jayne. the subsequent rundown provided the second out of the inning, allowing Zoellner to strike out the second batter he faced to end the half.

Five Maryland pitchers contributed in the Sunday matchup, giving up three runs on eight hits, striking out 11. Vaughn explained that all the Terps’ relievers did their job out of the bullpen, expressing his pride in how his pitching staff performed the majority of the weekend.

“It’s a little frustrating,” Maryland senior captain A.J. Lee explained, discussing the Terps offense’s inability to provide the pitching staff with run support. “But they’re going to have their bad days and we’re going to have to pick them up. I mean, we’re a team here and that’s kind of what we’re just focusing on.”

Maryland will look to regain momentum this week with a two-game midweek matchup at Elon, before facing Creighton next weekend.

“We’ve got to flush this,” Lee said. “The biggest thing is just to get back to the day-to-day…get back to our routine and our plan, and I think we’ll be fine.”