Pirates Split Doubleheader to Open AAC Play

GREENVILLE, N.C. — ECU (17-11) split Saturday's doubleheader with the Memphis Tigers (16-6) to open its first American Conference series.

Offense was hard to come by for the East Carolina baseball team in its first ever pair of American Conference games on Saturday afternoon. Scoring a total of six runs in the two games combined, the Pirates split their doubleheader with the Memphis Tigers at Clark-LeClair Stadium.

Fortunately, the Pirates (17-11) didn’t need to do much at the plate in Game 1. Sophomore southpaw Evan Kruczynski tossed a complete game and ECU did just enough offensively to win 4-1.

In Game two, however, a few sixth-inning fielding errors by Pirates starter Jacob Wolfe loaded the bases for Memphis (16-6) and clean-up hitter Tucker Tubbs cashed in with a two-run single to put the Tigers ahead 2-1. An inning later, ECU rallied back with the help of some heady base running by Garrett Brooks, who scampered to touch home plate on a wild pitch in the seventh inning to tie the game at 2-all.

But in the top of the ninth inning, the Tigers got the big hit — this time coming from shortstop Jake Overbey lining an RBI single up the middle to put Memphis back on top 3-2.

On their last set of at-bats, the Pirates had a golden opportunity to draw even once more or even win the game. Designated hitter Luke Lowery, who entered the ninth inning of Game 2 batting 1-for-19 over his last six games, led off the frame with a single and was advanced into scoring position after Travis Watkins successfully laid down a sacrifice bunt.

That set the stage for Brooks with one away, and the center fielder fired a fly ball that appeared poised for extra bases and subsequently, a game-tying hit, but instead, was knocked down by the wind just enough to allow Memphis center fielder Darien Tubbs to make an incredible diving catch for the second out.

“I tip my cap to him. That was just a great play,” Brooks said.

On the next at-bat, Eric Tyler grounded out to seal a 3-2 Memphis victory in Game 2, thus setting up a rubber match on Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m.

“They are a good team, we’re a good team, and it’s going to be close games,” first-year ECU coach Cliff Godwin said. “Whoever makes the plays and gets the big hits there at the end, is going to hold on. And they got the big hit and we didn’t.”

Saturday’s games marked the fourth and fifth consecutive games — and sixth out of the last seven — that ECU has score no more than four runs. This slide follows a stretch in which the Pirates scored 76 runs during a six-game winning streak.

“We’ve been hitting the ball hard, just right at people,” Brooks said when asked what this slump has been a result of. “Stuff doesn’t go our ways sometimes. We just have to face adversity and keep working.”

The story of Game 1 started and ended with Kruczynski. The lanky, 6-foot-5 sophomore efficiently worked through the Tigers’ lineup, scattering just six hits and one run in what soon turned out to be his second complete game of the season.

Kruczynski (5-1) nearly had his first career complete-game shutout too, if it wasn’t for Tucker Tubbs’ two-out RBI double in the top of the ninth inning that found a hole in left-center field.

“I wanted it pretty bad, but we got the win and that’s all that matters,” Kruczynski said of losing the shutout bid in the ninth.

Kruczynksi’s off-speed pitches, which he said was an area of focus in his preparation for his start on Saturday, were thrown for strikes against the Tigers and, as a result, he booked six strikeouts. Seventy-two of his 105 pitches on Saturday were thrown for strikes.

ECU opened scoring in the second inning of Game 1 on senior shortstop Hunter Allen’s sacrifice fly ball, which plated Tyler. Allen, who returned to the starting lineup for the first time in six games, later notched another RBI with a single in the bottom of the sixth.

According to Godwin, Allen was playing with a torn ligament in his left thumb and he told reporters that Allen’s only two options were to either have season-ending surgery that would end his collegiate career or to play through the pain. Allen, obviously, chose the latter.

“To have him out there, it just gives the guys confidence,” said Godwin. “Physically, he helps us out, but mentally, he kind of solidifies our defense.”

ECU finished Game 1 with no errors and its win snapped a three-game losing skid.

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