Hoffman struck out a career-high 14 batters – a LeClair Classic record – and surrendered just five hits and an unearned run in his eight innings of work. However, the Pirates' struggles at the plate continued and he was forced to settle for a no-decision.
It wasn't until the bottom of the 10th inning that ECU third baseman Zach Houchins wired a ball to second base, where Scott Wilcox couldn't handle the sharply-hit grounder and allowed Garrett Brooks to score the game-winning run. The Pirates (4-5) defeated the Hilltoppers (6-3) 2-1 Friday night.
ECU relief pitcher Ryan Williams (3-0) tossed two perfect innings to set up the decisive-error and earned his third win of the year, but Hoffman was largely responsible for the Pirates getting back in the win column.
"He put us on his back tonight and he carried us," said ECU coach Billy Godwin. "All Jeff cares about is our team winning, but I can tell you this, we're not even close to being in that game if he doesn't give us that kind of effort."
Hoffman started the game by striking out WKU's half of the first inning and fanned two more in the second. After surrendering a lead-off double in the second, Hoffman retired the next nine batters he faced, making the Hilltoppers seem fooling at times. He struck out the top of the fourth inning – two looking – to give him nine K's on 51 pitches.
But just as the visitors struggled at the plate, the Pirates mustered just two hits through the first six innings, leaving six runners stranded on base. However, WKU was aided by great defensive plays in the infield – turning double-plays in both the fourth and fifth innings to keep ECU at bay.
Hoffman set his new career-high for strikeouts by ringing up two more in the top of the sixth, but could not escape the frame clean. The Hilltoppers opened scoring 1-0 on a pair of hits, which included Ryan Church's RBI single, and a passed ball by freshman catcher Eric Tyler. The run was unearned.
WKU threatened again in the seventh with two runners in scoring position, but Hoffman escaped the jam by getting No. 9 hitter Trevor Love to fly out to centerfield. In the bottom half of the frame, the Pirates' bats finally provided Hoffman with some support on offense.
Following a lead-off walk, freshman Bryce Harman blasted an RBI double to score the fleet-footed Ben Fultz from first base. The scoring play erased ECU's 20-inning scoring-drought, dating back to Sunday's loss at Virginia.
Although the game was tied and Hoffman sat at 99 pitches, Godwin and pitching coach Dan Roszel elected to stick with him in the eighth inning.
"They came up to me and asked me how I was doing. They knew it was cold and we had the heater in there … but they have confidence in me, and they trust me and I felt good to go," said Hoffman.
And through the chilling temperatures, Hoffman was reminded of his high school career, pitching in Latham, N.Y., and came through again – setting the Keith LeClair Classic strikeouts record with two more in the frame. Through it all, he still is without a win this season.
Williams came on and retired all six of the batters he faced – striking out four of them – in the ninth and tenth innings. The last time ECU had 18 strikeouts in a game was in 2007 (3-2 win vs. Michigan).
The Pirates will resume action in the Keith LeClair Classic Saturday against the Pittsburgh Panthers. Prior to ECU's game Friday, Ohio State defeated Pittsburgh 6-2 to open the Classic. First pitch is scheduled for 3 p.m.