The 2012 East Carolina baseball team began the season with many question marks. Its most pressing concern was replacing a pitching staff which saw the departure of two weekend starters and a handful of big arms in the bullpen.
Seth Simmons was one of five hurlers selected in last summer's MLB Amateur Draft. The loss of the all-time leader in saves at ECU left the backend of the 'pen with a gaping hole.
Several names emerged in the offseason as to who would fill the void in Simmons' absence.
The Pirates may have found their stopper in a convincing sweep of Milwaukee.
The Ultimate Utility Player
Trailing 4-0 in the ninth inning of the season opener, the visiting Panthers loaded the bases with two outs and brought the tying run to the plate. Head coach Billy Godwin strolled to the mound and called on sophomore Drew Reynolds to preserve the victory.
The Cherryville, N.C., native needed only three pitches to do just that.
Reynolds - who throws from at least three arm slots - fanned Milwaukee's Ryan Solberg and ECU claimed a 4-0 win.
Reynolds offers the Pirates a myriad of options on the diamond. During his freshman campaign in 2011, he experienced limited action at the hot corner and second base while also toeing the rubber as more of a pitching experiment than a viable option.
However, Reynolds' abilities were not limited to the infield. After playing in the outfield during offseason practice sessions, the coaching staff noted Reynolds could serve in that role as the season progressed.
During the first game of Saturday's doubleheader - a 16-1 triumph for ECU - Reynolds entered the game in seventh frame for Jay Cannon. He was inserted into left field and quickly showed off his versatility.
Following freshman Nick Thompson's pinch-hit single to center and subsequent advancement into scoring position on a wild pitch, Reynolds grounded out to second.
While it wasn't a game-changing play in a blowout victory, hitting the ball to the right side with a runner on second and less than two outs is more of a necessity than luxury for offenses. As a result, Thompson advanced to third and could have scored on a pass ball, wild pitch or balk, among other ways. While his teammate was eventually left stranded 90 feet away from home, Reynolds ground ball gave the Pirates an opportunity to plate another run.
Securing the Sweep
The pitcher/infielder/outfielder hybrid wasn't quite finished following East Carolina's decisive series-clinching win.
Sophomore outfielder Ben Fultz was forced to leave the 16-1 victory in the sixth inning with an apparent leg injury.
Consequently, Godwin had to decide who would fill Fultz's position in left field for the nightcap of Saturday's doubleheader. It should come to no surprise whose name appeared on the lineup card. It read: "7 - Drew Reynolds - 7."
He recorded his first hit of 2012 with a single to left in the fifth.
After a blowout win in Saturday's first game, ECU found itself trailing 3-1 in the bottom of the seventh in the series finale.
John Wooten led off the inning and reached first on a walk. Jay Cannon followed with an infield single and the Pirates were threatening as they had runners on first and second with no outs. Next up? You guessed it.
Reynolds executed a picture-perfect sacrifice bunt that moved his teammates into scoring position. It was placed far enough to the left side that Milwaukee third baseman Sam Koenig had to charge, eliminating the chance for a force play at third. Ultimately, pitcher Jordan Guth fielded the bunt and had only one option: throwing to first.
With runners at second and third, it essentially eradicated any possibility of the Panthers turning an inning-ending double play unless they intentionally walked the next batter, Tim Younger. Even then, Milwaukee would have put the go-ahead run on base and brought leadoff hitter Jack Reinheimer to the plate. Reinheimer's speed makes a twin-killing difficult for any defense.
Reynolds had done his job.
The play won't show up in any highlight reel, but the effort placed the tying run at second base. It is a play that may have gone unnoticed to the casual fan, but it garnered the respect of Reynolds' teammates and coaches as they poured out of the dugout to shower him with praise for his critical, selfless effort.
Younger followed with a game-tying, two-run single through the left side - a clutch base knock made possible by Reynolds' execution. Later in the inning, Corey Thompson hit a game-winning, two-run double to right field which gave the Pirates a 5-3 advantage. East Carolina tacked on an insurance run in the eighth on a sacrifice fly from Cannon and led by three heading into the final stanza.
For the second time in as many days, Godwin placed the responsibility of securing the victory on Reynolds' right arm.
Reynolds isn't your typical closer. He utilizes an unorthodox technique which couples the traditional over-the-top throwing form with a sidearm release. The right-hander also pitches from the 'submarine' position, further complicating matters for opposing hitters.
The arm slots changed, but Reynolds' results on the mound remained a constant against Milwaukee.
He fanned the first two batters of the ninth on six pitches and induced a harmless grounder to Younger for the game's final out in a 6-3 win.
During the sweep, Reynolds threw 1 1/3 innings, struck out three, collected a pair of saves and tossed just 13 pitches. His efforts anchored a bullpen which hurled 11 scoreless frames on Friday and Saturday. The relievers finished the weekend with 11 strikeouts and issued only three free passes.
Almost every competitive team boasts someone on its roster that can play multiple positions, another who makes productive outs and lays down bunts in pressure-filled situations. Winning programs also possess a sure closer who throws strikes and challenges hitters.
Rarely do squads have one player that can perform all of those tasks.
If last weekend serves as any indication, East Carolina has that player in the form of Drew Reynolds.