Zach Houchins grounded a slowly-hit ball down the third base line that led to JMU third baseman Ty McFarland's game-ending throwing error. The miscue allowed pinch-runner Garrett Brooks to score from second base, securing ECU's 6-5 victory at Clark-LeClair Stadium Saturday.
"I thought our team showed a lot of resolve today," said ECU coach Billy Godwin. "We talk about this all the time as coaches behind closed doors is that the team that makes the least number of mistakes is the one that usually wins in college baseball."
Senior right-hander Ryan Williams earned his first win as a relief pitcher by tossing 2 1/3 frames and limited the Dukes to just a pair of hits.
ECU (1-0) had to rally from the behind after struggling to solve JMU (0-1) starter Mark Gunst early on. Gunst held the Pirates to just one hit through the first five innings, but in the bottom of the sixth, the Pirates' bats came alive. Trailing 3-1, ECU collected five hits in the frame that resulted in four runs – highlighted by newcomer Ian Townsend's three-run blast to right field – to put ECU in front 5-3.
Looking to close the door, Godwin turned to sophomore Nick Durazo and Williams out of the bullpen to relieve ace Jeff Hoffman, but JMU wouldn't go away. It clawed out two runs on McFarland's RBI single in the seventh and Kevin Husum's sacrifice fly-ball in the eighth to tie the game heading to the ninth inning.
Hoffman showed flashes to justify all the preseason attention and accolades he had received, but also displayed some early-season rust as well. He struck out six batters, walked two, allowed four runs (three earned) in 6 2/3 innings of work.
"I thought Jeff was solid. We had a 90 pitch count on him and he got us almost seven innings, which was exactly what we wanted and what more could you ask from your starter?," said Godwin.
Hoffman's season began on a rough note, though, as McFarland took him deep over the right field fence on the second pitch of the game. The last ECU pitcher to surrender a home run on the first at-bat was Seth Maness in 2011.
The Pirates answered in the bottom of the second inning with Dylan Brown's game-tying solo blast.
Hoffman got into more trouble in the fourth, surrendering back-to-back singles to begin the frame. Following a sacrifice bunt to move the runners over, right-fielder Tyler Gregory broke the tie with an RBI ground-out to second base. The Dukes added another run on a passed ball to stretch their lead to 3-1.
Brown's home run was ECU's only hit until Drew Reynolds and Zach Houchins reached base with singles in the bottom of the sixth inning – to set up Townsend's three-run home run. It was another fly ball that, assisted by the wind, carried over the right field wall.
The home run ended Gunst' night after 5 2/3 innings of work. Luke Lowery recorded the Pirates' fourth straight hit on right-handed reliever Ben Garner. Then, on southpaw Aaron Hoover, catcher Travis Watkins drove him in to stretch ECU's lead to 5-3 through six innings.
Godwin called on Durazo in the top of the seventh with a runner at second base and one away. His stint last just two at-bats, culminating on McFarland's RBI single to plate Kyle Weston.
Right-hander Ryan Williams replaced Durazo, and could not hold on to the lead. Though, the game-tying run wasn't earned. Williams struck out Connor Brown to start the eighth inning, but Watkins failed to hold on for strike three and Brown reached on a passed ball. Two batters later, Husum lifted a fly ball to center-field that was deep enough to score Brown comfortably and consequently, tie the game.
The Pirates will continue their series with the Dukes Saturday afternoon at Clark-LeClair Stadium. First pitch has been set for 2 p.m. Follow our game thread on the message boards or on Twitter @InsideECUSports for live in-game updates.