NEW ORLEANS ˆ Matt Farrington‚s sacrifice fly in the bottom of the ninth scored pinch runner Greg Buchanan to lift the University of Houston baseball team to a 2-1 win over East Carolina on Wednesday during the first round of the 2003 Conference USA Tournament at Turchin Stadium.
After jumping out to a 1-0 lead in the third inning, the Cougars, who are seeded No. 4 at the tournament, saw that advantage vanish when Jamie Paige blasted a home to lead off the eighth inning for the fifth-seeded Pirates.
In the ninth, Travis Tully started the Cougar rally with a single up the middle, and Buchanan moved into scoring position on Hyung Cho‚s sacrifice bunt, his first of the 2003 season. After Thanos Papavasiliou was intentionally walked and Cole Bruce drew another walk to load the bases, Farrington lifted a 1-0 offering from ECU reliever Glenn Tucker into right field.
ECU right fielder Ben Sanderson made the catch, but his throw to catcher John Poppert was late to catch the sliding Buchanan from scoring the winning run.
With the win, the Cougars (32-25) exacted some revenge on ECU in a number of ways. First, the Cougars avenged a series loss to the Pirates during the C-USA season-opening series for both teams at Cougar Field on March 14-16. From a C-USA Tournament standpoint, the Cougars got even after falling 4-0 in the 2002 championship game at Grainger Stadium in Kinston, N.C.
The contest featured two solid efforts from both teams‚ starting pitchers. UH starter Brad Sullivan allowed only four hits with seven strikeouts in 7.1 innings before being lifted by head coach Rayner Noble due to a blister on his throwing hand. With his strikeout total, the junior righthander has recorded 404 strikeouts to become the first Cougar hurler and only the second in C-USA history to reach the 400-strikeout milestone during his outstanding career.
ECU starter Will Brinson matched Sullivan inning by inning. The Pirate righthander scattered two runs off five hits with eight strikeouts but collected the loss to fall to 3-4 this season.
The Cougars will now face No. 1 seed Southern Mississippi at 4 p.m., Thursday in the second round with UH southpaw Danny Zell (8-4, 3.34) scheduled to take the hill. The Golden Eagles were an easy 13-0 winner in seven innings over No. 8 Charlotte.
The Cougars struck for the game‚s first run with a two-out rally in the third inning. Michael Bourn walked and moved all the way to third when Travis Tully lined a shot off the foot of ECU starter Will Brinson. Hyung Cho then slapped a single through the left side of the infield to plate Bourn and give the Cougars a 1-0 lead.
East Carolina (31-24-1)threatened in the next half inning by loading the bases with only one out. However, Sullivan struck out Jake Smith and then forced Adam Witter to fly out to center field to end the threat. The Cougar pitcher would go on to retire nine of the last 10 batters that he faced before giving way to the UH bullpen.
The score remained tied at 1-1 until the eighth inning when Paige blasted a 1-1 offering from UH reliever Ryan Wagner over the right center field wall. In the ninth, the Pirates‚ Darryl Lawhorn walked to lead off and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt, Wagner tossed back-to-back strikeouts to end the threat and set the stage for the Cougars‚ ninth-inning heroics.
Tully went 2-for-4 to lead the Cougar offense, which managed just five hits in the contest. No ECU starter managed more than one hit in the game.
Wagner collected the win and improved to 4-5 after allowing one run off one hit with four strikeouts in 1.2 innings of work.
Fans can catch the action on KAXF 88.3 FM or over the Internet at www.UHcougars.com with pregame slated to begin about 15 minutes before the first pitch. Fans can also catch the action batter-by-batter by visiting www.UHcougars.com and clicking on the "Gametracker" link on the Daily Calendar at the bottom of the main page.