Pirates survive Knights in shortened finale

Following lengthy rain and lightning delays in Saturday's rubber game at Clark LeClair Stadium, ECU won its sixth straight Conference USA series against UCF. Bradley Harwood has more.

East Carolina held off UCF, 6-5, in Saturday's shortened rubber game – lasting just six innings due to rain and lightning delays – with all six of its runs being scored the first two innings. The Pirates closed the regular season by capturing their six-straight series in Conference USA-play, subsequently clinching the No. 3 seed in next week's league tournament.

ECU (30-24, 14-10 C-USA) first baseman Chase McDonald drew first blood with his league-best eleventh home run – a two-run blast – in the first inning. Ben Fultz followed suit in the second frame with the Pirate's first grand slam in two years.

"He threw me two sliders and then a fastball inside," Fultz said. "That's usually my cookie-hole, so I hit it real well and it was unbelievable."

UCF (29-27, 13-11 C-USA) had to wait to chip at ECU's lead because rain and lightning stopped action for over two hours. Due to a travel curfew issued by the league, the game couldn't start a new inning past 3 p.m. shortening the game to six innings.

Play resumed at 1:20 p.m. and the Knights opened action with an action-packed third inning. Ryan Breen's solo shot and Bret Gordon's two-RBI double cut the Pirates lead to just 6-3.

UCF trimmed the lead to just, 6-5, in the top of the fifth and had the bases loaded when senior left-hander Jake Harris relieved starter Ryan Williams. With no outs, Harris remarkably escaped the jam unscathed by retiring his first three batters. Two of them by strikeout.

"I came in and tried to get a pop-out, strikeout or a groundball double-play to let my defense work behind me," Harris said. "It's a good way to go out, to get us into the conference tournament rolling with a win."

"They're a loose group, they're focused and they want to win," said head coach Billy Godwin. "One thing I noticed early in the year when we were losing games was that it really crushed them. You could see it in their eyes and I could sense they weren't happy with it. They worked their rear-ends off to get here."

The Pirates were victims to an excellent pitching by UCF's ace Ben Lively in Thursday's series opener. Lively, who is known to be one of the conference's best pitchers, threw a complete-game shutout en route to a 2-0 Knight's win.

UCF jumped out in front of ECU, 6-1, on Friday, but the Pirates clawed back to tie the game in the sixth inning. With both teams deadlocked at eight runs apiece, Chris Gosik drove in the decisive run, Dylan Brown, on his third hit of the night and ECU went on to win, 10-8.

Next week's C-USA tournament will be held in Houston and is set to begin May 22.

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