And they did not leave disappointed.
Hoffman struck out a career-high 16 and allowed just three hits in eight shut-out innings – looking every bit the part of a top-tier draft prospect in ECU's 1-0 victory at Clark-LeClair Stadium.
"Everything was in the zone, everything felt good out of the hand and I had great defense behind me," said Hoffman (3-3), who grew up a fan of Epstein's World-Series-Champion Red Sox teams, adding, "He put together probably my favorite MLB team of all-time in the 2004 Red Sox."
ECU (23-15, 10-6 C-USA) coach Billy Godwin believes his ace's performance Thursday night alone validates all of the attention he has received this season.
"That's as good as it gets and I've been in this game a long time," he told reporters. "His stuff was electric tonight."
With Hoffman sitting at 117 pitches through eight innings, Godwin elected to bring in reliever Ryan Williams to close the game. But the senior right-hander was not in his typical, lights-out form Thursday.
Blue Raiders' (18-20, 8-8 C-USA) centerfielder Ryan Stephens flew out to the warning track in left field and with runners on first and second and two outs, Michael Adkins singled to right field – setting up Ian Townsend's rope to catcher Eric Tyler, who tagged out Trent Miller at the plate to end the game.
"Ian made a good throw. That's a play we practice a lot in practice. We call it ‘Do or die,'" Godwin said. "The game was on the line right there and you got to make a great throw at the plate. I thought Eric did a good job securing the ball and making a good tag."
Townsend was also responsible for the game's only run in the bottom of the fifth inning on his sacrifice fly-out to right field. He has a team-leading 28 RBI, including six game winners on the year.
Overshadowed on Thursday night was the outstanding pitching performance by Middle Tennessee starter Zac Curtis (5-2). The senior southpaw matched Hoffman's eight innings, allowing seven hits, a walk and the game's only run. But it came to no avail as he was handed the loss.
It was a true pitcher's duel from the game's first pitch and Hoffman was dominant.
Hoffman never exceeded 18 pitches in any of his eight innings, while having multiple strikeouts in six of them and striking out the side twice. Also, his 16 strikeouts are the most by a Conference USA pitcher this season.
"It starts with his fastball command and he was able to throw his breaking ball for strikes," said Godwin. "When you're throwing 97 (miles per hour) with an 80 mile-an-hour curveball and a good change up, it makes it real difficult to hit. He was really dialed in tonight."
The series between ECU and Middle Tennessee was altered Thursday afternoon as Godwin announced there would be a doubleheader Friday. The doubleheader is set to begin at 2 p.m. with the second game taking place approximately 45 minutes after the first one concludes.
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