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Louisville plays the right Cards, ends Pirates' season

NCAA Louisville East Carolina Baseball
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East Carolina's Bryant Packard walks to the dugout as Louisville players dogpile to celebrate their win on Saturday in Louisville, Ky., to advance to the College World Series.

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BY RONNIE WOODWARD
The Daily Reflector

Saturday, June 8, 2019

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The Jim Patterson Stadium scoreboard read during the third inning Saturday that Louisville had six runs on six hits, while East Carolina was scoreless with no hits.

If Friday’s rout by the Cardinals was not enough of a sign, it became official Saturday that ECU’s record-breaking baseball season was over with a 12-0 loss to the surging Atlantic Coast Conference regular season champion Cardinals.

ECU’s hit total of zero remained the same through eight innings. Louisville hard-thrower Bobby Miller took a no-hitter against the Pirates (47-18) into the ninth, when Chandler Jenkins was hit by a pitch to lead off and then Thomas Francisco lined a single into right field to end the no-hitter and send off Miller to a standing ovation.

Miller’s performance was one of the many highlights for Louisville in outscoring ECU by a total of 26-1 in two games of the best-of-three NCAA tournament super regional series.

“They are very good at home, and they are built for this turf and speed,” Pirate fifth-year coach Cliff Godwin said. “Especially when the wind is blowing in, that didn’t do us any favors because we are built for power. We couldn’t hit the ball out of the park because of the wind and they are beating the ball into the turf and check-swinging balls into right field, it was just tough for us to defend any of that stuff.

“I knew it was going to be tough, I just wish we could have played a little better baseball here. The scores aren’t reality of how much better Louisville is than East Carolina, and my hats off to them, but they didn’t see the best East Carolina team this weekend.”

Miller threw 90 pitches. He allowed one hit, walked two, plunked a batter and struck out five.

“I tried not to think anything different, but obviously it was hard to not look at the scoreboard and see no hits up there,” Miller said.

The Cardinals advanced to Omaha, Neb., to the College World Series for the fourth time since 2012.

The Pirates, who won the American Athletic Conference with a league-record 20 regular season wins and rallied to four victories in two days to win the Greenville Regional, never held a lead in either game against the NCAA No. 7 overall seed.

Louisville celebrated with the traditional dogpile and No. 10 East Carolina was left still searching for its first trip to Omaha.

In its 30th NCAA tournament appearance, ECU’s 0-2 record in Louisville gave the Pirates a 1-10 all-time record in super regional games. The Pirates are saying goodbye to a lot of star power, having seven seniors on their roster and also five juniors who were selected in this year’s Major League Baseball draft.

“All the seniors and the guys who got drafted who will be leaving, they left this place better than they found it,” senior shortstop Turner Brown said. “This one weekend doesn’t define our whole season. We broke a lot of records and it’s like coach Godwin always says that this program will get to Omaha one day. I think that this group has helped to mold the foundation to get us there.”

A four-run fourth inning and five-run fifth inning by the Cardinals doomed the Pirates in Game 1. On Saturday, it was Louisville’s three runs in the top of the second that proved critical and three more in the third made it 6-0.

The top of the second began with a leadoff walk by Jake Snider against Pirate starter Alec Burleson, who gave up three runs on three hits with five strikeouts, two walks and a hit batsman in two innings. The Pirates’ first reliever was Gavin Williams, who also was charged three runs on three hits in two-thirds of an inning.

Following Snider’s walk was a single by Danny Oriente and then a two-run triple by Drew Campbell for the biggest hit of the game. The ball tailed down the left field line and nearly was caught by Bryant Packard as he hustled to his right and reached for what might have been a rally-preventing catch.

“We weren’t looking for (Burleson) to go deep, but if Packard makes that catch down the line, then the game is different for a little bit at least,” Godwin said. “The ball faded and you have the wind. Baseball is a game of inches.”

The Cardinals’ three runs in the fourth were sparked by consecutive doubles by Campbell and Justin Lavey, the latter plating two runs for a 5-0 advantage. Lavey finished 3-for-3 with three runs scored, three RBIs and a walk.

ECU’s 47-18 record was better than last year’s 44-18 mark and the most wins since the 2004 Pirates finished 51-13 and had their season end with two losses at the South Carolina Super Regional.

“(Louisville) played unbelievable baseball for two days,” Godwin said. “I felt like after watching two days of it, our guys ran out of gas. We played five games in 48 hours (last week) and you would think if the NCAA was so concerned about the welfare of student-athletes that we wouldn’t have to play the first game on Friday. But I guess that is the way it is when you are non-Power Five school.

“These guys, in my opinion, earned to be a national (top-8) seed. Not over Louisville, but we had the fifth RPI in the country and won 42 regular season games and the 11th nonconference strength of schedule and didn’t even sniff a national seed. In my opinion, that’s not right.”

Contact Ronnie Woodward at rwoodward@reflector.com, 252-329-9592 and follow @RonnieW11 on Twitter.

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