Loves Goes the Distance in Bounce-back Win

GREENVILLE, N.C. — ECU (30-18, 10-7 AAC) senior left-hander Reid Love tossed his second complete game of the season in the Pirates 5-4 victory over UConn (29-19, 8-9 AAC)

Reid Love exhaled while walking away from a team huddle in the immediate aftermath of East Carolina’s 5-4 victory over Connecticut on Saturday afternoon. After taking in a deep breath, he then revealed a wide smile.

That’s because on the way to pitching his second complete-game performance of the season, Love (5-3) survived threats in the last two innings — stranding two runners on base in the eighth and recording the game's final out with the deficit trimmed to one run — despite allowing a three-run home run to UConn’s (29-19, 8-9 American) Vinnny Siena with two away in the ninth.

With right-handed reliever Joe Ingle up in the bullpen, first-year ECU (30-18, 10-7 American) coach Cliff Godwin told Love that the Huskies’ next batter would be his last. That batter was left-handed hitter Bobby Melley, who was 4-for-4 going into the at-bat.

With the game now on the line, it looked like the decision was going to backfire when Melley fired a deep fly ball down the right-field line. Fortunately for Love, it floated just right of the pole, but it was close enough for nearly half of the Huskies dugout to begin celebrating.

“I got a little nervous,” Love admitted to reporters.

Two pitches later, Love induced a game-ending ground-out to second base, setting up a rubber match Sunday afternoon at Clark-LeClair Stadium.

It was Love’s fourth straight start pitching more than six innings. The senior southpaw struck out four Huskies, forced 17 fly-outs and four groundouts, while the defense behind him played a clean game after committing four errors in ECU's 13-2 loss on Friday.

“I said (to the team), ‘Nobody needs to be Superman today,’ but Reid Love was Superman,” Godwin said. “We’re going to win or lose with our captains on the field ... and it paid off.”

Since beginning the season 1-5 in one-run games, the Pirates have won their last seven games by one run. In Love’s previous start last Saturday, he left the game against UCF one out short of finishing a complete game.

Unlike its series-opening loss on Friday, ECU was efficient at the plate.

The Pirates battered UConn left-hander Anthony Kay (6-5) for all five of their runs on eight hits. ECU’s sophomore slugger Bryce Harman belted his fourth home run of the season to open up a pivotal, three-run fifth inning.

“They’ve been pinching me inside all weekend,” Harman said. “I just backed off the plate a little bit. I knew it was coming, I was on time for it. It felt good.”

However, to get started offensively on Saturday, the Pirates capitalized on UConn errors in both the first and second innings.

In the bottom of the first, a potential double play was spoiled when UConn first baseman Aaron Hill airmailed a throw over second base and into centerfield, allowing Charlie Yorgen to round third and open scoring.

Kay committed an error in similar fashion in the second inning, overshooting a pick-off attempt at second base to allow Travis Watkins to take third base. Hunter Allen later plated Watkins on an RBI single. Allen recorded a team-best three hits, going 3-for-4 at the dish on Saturday.

In the fifth, Harman’s solo home run was the first of three consecutive hits to lead off the inning. The fourth knock was off the bat of — who else? — Love, whose two-run single plated Parker Lamm and Allen to stretch ECU’s lead to 5-1.

The Huskies booked back-to-back hits in the eighth inning to send powerful catcher Max McDowell, who is the owner of a team-leading seven home runs, to the plate with two runners in scoring position and just one out.

Love popped McDowell up in the infield and made the grab, then got Joe Deroche-Duffin to ground out to end the threat.

The first pitch for Sunday’s rubber match has been moved up 30 minutes from its originally scheduled time to 12:30 p.m. ECU sophomore Jacob Wolfe and UConn’s Jordan Tabakman are the game’s probable starting pitchers.

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