After falling behind 2-0 early, it wasn't until Chase McDonald's deep sacrifice-fly to centerfield—scoring Bryan Bass—that ECU (22-21, 7-7 Conference USA) took its first lead of the game. Later in the inning, they added the decisive run to go on-top, 4-2, prompted by a bases-loaded walk that brought-home Drew Reynolds.
With Reynolds on for the save, Memphis (26-18, 9-8 C-USA) strung together three consecutive singles in the ninth inning to claw back within a run, 4-3. But the Pirates defense would bail out their closer, completing a 4-6-3 double-play to end the game, which awarded Reynolds his ninth save of the season.
The hard-fought win sets up a rubber game at Clark LeClair Stadium Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m. With both teams in close proximity to each other in the league standings, there will be a lot on the line.
"It's big for us to be above .500 in the league and still be in the hunt," said ECU coach Billy Godwin. "Every league-win we have to cherish because there's a lot of parity in the league and anybody can beat anybody."
Right-hander Brett Mabry (2-2) earned his second win of the season in relief of starter David Lucroy. Mabry wasn't flashy but only allowed two hits without issuing a walk in his three innings of work.
"I didn't feel like I was at my best, but I did what I had to do. This is the best defense I've ever had behind me," said Mabry, "I usually just try to throw strikes and let them do their job."
Memphis lefty Sam Moll is notorious for being one of the conference's best hurlers, but wasn't sharp Saturday. In five innings, he surrendered seven hits and walked two batters.
Pirates shortstop Jack Reinheimer started things off in the first inning with a stand-up double down the right-field line. Reynolds spliced a single just over the outstretched-glove of Tigers second-baseman Zach Willis and into right field. Reinheimer was waved-home, but was thrown-out at the plate.
After striking out the side in the second, Lucroy ran into trouble in the third inning. He issued two walks that turned into two first two runs of the game. First, shortstop Ethan Gross notched RBI-single that plated Bryce Beeler and Willis later scored on an RBI-groundout by first baseman Carter White.
ECU had a golden opportunity to cut into the deficit in the fourth—loading the bases with only one out—but couldn't capitalize. Left-fielder Chris Gosik grounded to shortstop for an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play.
The Pirates got on the board in the fifth when Reynolds blasted an RBI double off the top of the wall in right-center field, scoring Travis Watkins. On the next at-bat, Houchins tied the game with a sacrifice-fly to centerfield that allowed Reinheimer to tag and score.
Brett Mabry came on to pitch for Lucroy in relief and hit two batters to load the bases in the seventh inning. ECU has issued 73 hit-by-pitches this season, which is 26 short of the NCAA record, 99. Memphis spoiled the chance with a quiet groundout to first base.
ECU faced an identical situation in the bottom half of the frame with first baseman Chase McDonald at the plate. McDonald lifted a sacrifice-fly to the deepest part of the ballpark in centerfield—off of losing pitcher Connor Porter (1-1)— bringing in Bass to give the Pirates their first lead of the day, 3-2. Following an infield-single by Ben Fultz that filled the bags again, Memphis reliever Blake Myers walked Jay Cannon, scoring Reynolds to make it 4-2.
After blowing only his second save of the year in Tuesday's walk-off win against Elon, Reynolds was back on the mound in the ninth. The top of the order was due up for the Tigers and the first three batters recorded base-hits, highlighted by designated-hitter Carter White's RBI single that scored Willis.Unlike Friday night, Memphis couldn't complete the late-rally as third baseman Drew Griffin grounded into an inning-ending double play to even the weekend series.
"We lost a tough one last night. We led most of the game and they battled back, tied it up and took the lead on us," said Reynolds. "In the ninth inning, it wasn't easy…But we were able to come through with the win that was big for us."
This series is ECU's military appreciation weekend and during Saturday's game, the Pirates wore camouflage caps. Sunday's finale will feature another solid pitching matchup between ECU right-hander Ryan Williams (5-2) and Memphis lefty Alex Gunn (3-2), who has an ERA of 1.95 this season.