Pirate comeback to clinch?
The Daily Reflector
Wednesday, May 23, 2018
A gutsy and wild comeback Wednesday afternoon for East Carolina at the American Athletic Conference baseball tournament in Clearwater, Fla., might have assured that the Pirates will be smiling Sunday night when the 16 NCAA regional hosts are announced.
ECU advanced to the AAC semifinals in dramatic fashion in dropping upset-minded Tulane to the losers’ bracket with a five-run rally in the top of the eighth inning for a 6-5 win. The comeback victory was part of the AAC’s use of two fields to play six games Wednesday ahead of heavy rain expected later in the week.
The updated scheduled calls for ECU (41-15) to play its semifinal contest against the Tulane-Houston winner at 12:30 p.m. on Thursday.
ECU mainly struggled for hard contact against Green Wave junior right-handed starter Kaleb Roper, who struck out a career-high 11 batters in 7 2/3 innings, but the Pirates rallied against Roper and Ben White, and they scored four of their five runs in the eighth with two outs.
It was 4-2 Tulane (25-32) when ECU got a two-out RBI single by Bryant Packard. Spencer Brickhouse’s RBI single tied it, and Dwanya Williams-Sutton raced home on a wild pitch and dove head-first into the plate barely ahead of the tag for a 5-4 edge.
Williams-Sutton’s run created the Pirates’ first lead of the game.
Jake Washer provided the final RBI base hit, scoring Brickhouse to make it 6-4.
Roper left the mound when his club was leading 4-3 and he ended up being charged with five runs on five hits in 7 2/3 innings.
The Wave was in position to win behind Roper’s dominant pitching for seven innings and a pair of two-run home runs by Grant Witherspoon, whose second shot to right field in the bottom of the seventh gave Tulane a 4-1 cushion. Tulane upset league champion Houston on Day 1 of the tournament and was looking to make a clean and surprise trip to the semifinals.
East Carolina’s RPI ranking improved to No. 12 briefly Tuesday after beating Central Florida and was back to 13th Wednesday. Its win total and RPI has it in position to host a regional at Clark-LeClair Stadium for the second time in school history and first since 2009.
Trey Benton entered the game in a tough spot with the Wave leading 2-1 and the bases loaded with one out in the bottom of the fifth. He struck out Trevor Jensen, the No. 3 hitter in Tulane’s batting order, and induced a 4-3 groundout to keep it a 2-1 deficit.
Pirate starter Alec Burleson pitched 4 1/3 innings and yielded two runs on two hits with four walks and two strikeouts. Benton went 1 1/3 scoreless frames.
ECU used six pitchers, including previously-injured Evan Voliva making his second appearance of the season and getting his second pitching victory by getting the final two outs in the bottom of the seventh. Jake Agnos recorded his first save when he pitched the final two innings and gave up one run — in the eighth — on one hit with three strikeouts, no walks and a wild pitch.