ECU Advances to AAC Tournament Championship
Despite facing a handful of scoring threats and being limited on offense for most of the afternoon , East Carolina remained perfect in the American Conference baseball tournament with a 4-2 victory against Connecticut at Bright House Field on Saturday. The Huskies (35-25) loaded the bases in each of the final two innings, but ECU (39-20) freshman reliever Joe Ingle came in to preserve the win for sophomore left-hander Jacob Wolfe (5-2). In the program’s first season in the AAC, the Pirates have advanced to Sunday’s conference championship game to face the Houston Cougars (42-17), who took two out of three games from ECU earlier this month in Texas. “I just want to bring East Carolina back to national prominence,” first-year ECU coach Cliff Godwin said. “It’s a team effort. I’ve got a ton of assistant coaches and support staffs that share the same vision and these players in the dugout share the same vision.” UConn starter William Montgomerie walked the bases loaded before recording an out in the top of the first inning — which eventually led to two Pirate runs on RBI from Kirk Morgan and Luke Lowery — and was given the quick hook by UConn coach Jim Penders. Those two runs were nearly all of the run support left-hander Jacob Wolfe and the Pirates needed on Saturday. With temperatures touching the mid-90s at Bright House Field, Wolfe seemed unfazed with the Florida heat and, instead, was cool and collected throughout his start, especially when the Pirates needed him to escape two separate jams in the middle innings. The sophomore southpaw lasted seven innings until a weather delay in the top of the eighth disrupted play for two hours and 35 minutes, which ended his outing. Wolfe allowed seven hits and hit two batsmen, but struck out four Huskies and did not issue a walk. “We won today because Jacob Wolfe was tremendous on the mound,” Godwin said. “We played good defense behind him. He pitched in the clutch, got some big strikeouts ... and he’s the MVP of the game.” Another left-hander, Nick Durazo, came on to replace Wolfe, but UConn clawed back to load the bases with two hits an a hit-by-pitch, which prompted Godwin to hand the ball to Ingle, who forced a ground ball that required a barehanded throw at second base by Charlie Yorgen to end the threat. In the bottom of the ninth inning, UConn got a run back on Bobby Melley’s two-out RBI single to trim ECU’s lead to 4-2. Following a hit-by-pitch and a walk to load the bases that subsequently, put the winning run on base, Ingle got a fly ball to end the game. ECU has now won seven consecutive games and 10 of its last 13 after going 3-0 in the conference tournament this week. Pirates’ senior shortstop Hunter Allen was 2-for-3 at the plate with a walk and scored two runs. Yorgen also touched them all and drove in a run with a suicide squeeze in the sixth inning to provide the Pirates with some insurance. On the first at-bat after the lengthy delay, a single by Lowery coupled with a throwing error in left field allowed for pinch runner Parker Lamm to score from second base. Lowery finished 2-for-4 at the dish, joining Allen as the only two Pirates to log multiple hits on Saturday. After Montgomerie walked the bases loaded in the first inning, right-hander Sam Nepiarsky entered the game and limited the damage. Nepiarksy went on to pitch 6 1/3 innings, allowing one run on just three hits. The Huskies cut the Pirates’ lead in half 2-1 in the bottom of the first on cleanup hitter Blake Davey’s RBI double that found a gap in right-center field. UConn had runners on the corners in the both the fourth and sixth innings, but Wolfe got the Pirates out of the respective frames unscathed. Most notably, with one away in the sixth, Wolfe induced UConn third baseman Willy Yahn into an inning-ending, 5-4-3 double play. Wolfe continued to cruise through the seventh inning, striking out two batters before the rain and lightning rolled through Clearwater, Fla. Houston, the AAC's regular season champion, has won its three games in the conference tournament by a combined score of 32-10, capped with a 17-3 semifinal victory against Memphis on Saturday. Godwin said junior David Lucroy will get the start for the Pirates. First-team All-AAC pitcher Reid Love is expected to an option for ECU coming out of the bullpen since Godwin ruled Ingle unavailable after the game. First pitch of the championship game is scheduled for noon and it will be telecast on ESPNU.
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