Pirates Split Doubleheader to Capture Series

GREENVILLE, N.C. – ECU (24-16, 11-7 C-USA) split Friday's doubleheader against Middle Tennessee (19-21, 9-9 C-USA) to clinch the series victory at Clark-LeClair Stadium.

Runs came at a premium for East Carolina in its three-game series against Middle Tennessee this week. On the back of Jeff Hoffman's career night, the Pirates won Thursday's opener 1-0, but one run wasn't nearly enough in the front-end of their doubleheader Friday – ECU lost 6-1.

However, in the rubber game, Zach Houchins provided an offensive spark in the bottom of the third inning with a three-run home run over the left field fence, which highlighted his 3-for-4 night-cap. And ECU's pitching duo of Tyler Bolton and Ryan Williams took care of the rest.

The Pirates held on to a 5-1 victory at Clark-LeClair Stadium to clinch an important weekend series as they approach the home stretch of the 2014 season.

"Series wins are crucial, especially when you're in a good league and playing good teams," said ECU coach Billy Godwin. "Certainly, sweeps are golden. I wasn't really pleased the way we played (in Friday's opener), but I challenged our guys and we got it done."

Junior right-hander Tyler Bolton (2-3) allowed three hits and a walk in his 5 2/3 shutout innings to earn the win. Meanwhile, Williams went the rest of the way for his 5th save of the year.

The doubleheader closes a stretch of four games in three nights for the Pirates (24-16, 11-7 C-USA) and if not for a cancelled game due to rain at UNC Wilmington Tuesday, it could have been five games in four days.

"We're banged up in some areas," Godwin said. "We need some time off right now. It's a good time. The weather may have done us a favor right here where we can mend up a little bit."

However, the lay-off will be abbreviated. The Pirates return to action for a non-conference game against fellow Conference USA member Old Dominion, who took out of three against ECU last weekend in Norfolk.

Friday's action started with Middle Tennessee (19-21, 9-9 C-USA) evening the series on the back of starting pitcher Paul Mittura and the defense behind him. The right-handed Mittura scattered six hits across his seven innings of works and was given all the run support he needed.

The visiting Blue Raiders struck early on Jared Allen's two-run home run over the left-field fence in the top of the first inning. Then, after compiling just two hits over the next four innings, right fielder Trent Miller took the first pitch of sixth inning deep as well – making it 3-0 Blue Raiders.

Zach Houchins was 3-for-4 in game two of the doubleheader Friday
(Kat Jessick/InsideECUSports.com)
The Pirates responded in the bottom half of the frame, albeit the run was unearned. On the turn of an apparent inning-ending, 6-4-3 double play, Middle Tennessee second baseman Austin Bryant overshot his first baseman and threw the relay into the dugout, which allowed Kirk Morgan to score. Brett Mabry (3-1) lasted six innings in his first loss of the year.

Allen put an explanation point on the Blue Raiders' game one victory with a monster blast – another two-run shot – in the seventh inning that stretched the margin to 6-1 after Miller slapped a sacrifice-fly to right field earlier in the frame.

After dropping the opening leg of the doubleheader, ECU was given a lift by one of its premier hitters, Houchins, who was 1-for-8 at the plate in the series' first two games. The senior third baseman went with a different look in between games, pulling up his socks about knee height, in hopes of changing his luck at the plate.

It worked. Houchins' third inning blast was just his second long ball of the season and provided the Pirates all of the offense they needed to clinch the series.

"I got into a two-strike count and I'm very comfortable in a two-strike count," said Houchins. "He threw me a fastball, I thought I could handle it and I just tried to drive it somewhere,"

He successfully drove it somewhere – into an elated jungle beyond the left-field wall. As for whether or not he will keep the new long-socks look, he smiled and said, "for sure."

ECU later stretched their lead, albeit having little production at the plate.

Without notching a hit, the Pirates loaded the bases because of two walks and a hit batter – and had Bryce Harman cross to score on reliever Matt Blackham's wild pitch. Another Blackham wild pitch allowed Houchins to score in the seventh inning to make it 5-0.

Allen drove in Middle Tennessee's lone run of game two in the top of the eighth inning, but it was too little, too late at that point.

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