Sports

ECU Pirates power their way to NCAA regional title

Playing on its home field didn’t prevent East Carolina from taking the most arduous path possible to an NCAA baseball regional championship.

The Pirates dropped their opener Saturday night and needed to win four elimination games in two days to emerge as champions.

They proved more than worthy of the task.

“I feel like I went 26 rounds with Mike Tyson and I didn’t even play,” ECU coach Cliff Godwin said.

ECU’s powerful offense allowed them to post four lopsided wins, including Monday night’s 12-3 win over Campbell that decided the Greenville Regional championship at Clark-LeClair Stadium.

Averaging 11 runs a game during their season-saving four-game winning streak, the Pirates (47-16) advanced to the NCAA tournament’s super regional round for the first time since 2016.

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ECU coach Cliff Godwin celebrates with fans after East Carolina’s 12-3 victory over Campbell to win the Greenville Regional at Clark-LeClair Stadium in Greenville, N.C., Monday, June 3, 2019. Ethan Hyman ehyman@newsobserver.com

“We had zero doubt,” said ECU catcher Jake Washer, named the regional’s most outstanding player with four home runs. “We were just playing hard knowing we ould do what we did.”

Playing in its 30th NCAA tournament but seeking its first College World Series berth, No. 10 national seed ECU will play No. 7 seed Louisville in the best-of-three Louisville Super Regional this weekend.

Campbell (37-21) entered Monday needing one win over the Pirates to win the first regional in program history. But ECU bashed the Camels 10-3 Monday afternoon, forcing a winner-take-all rematch Monday night.

The Pirates dashed Campbell’s upset hopes one final time, building leads of 5-0 and 6-1 on the way to the championship.

“Anybody that can come through the loser’s bracket in an NCAA tournament, four teams, eight teams it really doesn’t matter, deserves to move on,” Campbell coach Justin Haire said. “They did that, winning four games these last two days.”

ECU jumped to a quick lead with two runs in the first inning. Bryant Packard’s lead-off single ignited the rally. He took third on Turner Brown’s infield single when Campbell pitcher Phil Simpson threw wildly to first trying to get Brown.

Alec Burleson’s ground out drove in Packard. After a Jake Washer lineout, Spencer Brickhouse’s line-drive double to left field brought in Brown to put ECU up 2-0.

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ECU’s Spencer Brickhouse (42) is lifted up after scoring on a home run in the third inning during East Carolina’s elimination game with Campbell in the Greenville Regional at Clark-LeClair Stadium in Greenville, N.C., Monday, June 3, 2019. Ethan Hyman ehyman@newsobserver.com

The Camels immediately started a rally in the second inning as Spencer Packard doubled and Collin Wolf walked.

But with two on and no outs, Koby Collins’ line drive up the middle was snared by ECU pitcher Gavin Williams for an unlikely out. Williams struck out Grant Harris and retired Zach Minnick on a ground ball to third to escape the jam unscathed.

ECU added two more runs in the second inning, aided by a crucial Campbell error.

The Pirates loaded the bases with one out as Thomas Francisco singled, Bryson Worrell walked and Packard singled.

Brown hit a ground ball toward second base that looked like an inning-ending double play. Campbell’s Tyler Anshaw fielded the ball and touched second for the forceout, but his throw to first was high and wild. Two ECU runners scored to expand its lead to 4-0.

“I wish we would have played a little bit better, a little bit cleaner early in the game and we would have maybe had a little bit better ballgame late,” Haire said.

Brickhouse’s third-inning home run gave the Pirates a 5-0 lead.

Campbell cut ECU’s lead to 6-3 on Packard’s two-run double. But, behind 3 1/3 strong innings from relief pitcher Jake Kuchmaner, ECU limited the Camels to one hit the rest of the game to put Campbell away before a crowd of 5,206.

“Everybody’s pitching on fumes and the crowd was amazing,” Godwin said. “I don’t know if we could have gotten through it these past two days if it wasn’t for the crowd.”

An Illinois native, Steve Wiseman has covered Duke athletics since 2010 for the Durham Herald-Sun and Raleigh News & Observer. Prior to his arrival in Durham, he worked for newspapers in Columbia and Spartanburg, S.C., Biloxi, Miss., and Charlotte covering beats including the NFL’s Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints, University of South Carolina athletics and the S.C. General Assembly.
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