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Pirates rally to top Catamounts

By By KEVIN TRAVIS, Sports Editor
CHAPEL HILL — These Pirates sure do make things interesting.
Jamie Ray’s two-run single in the bottom of the eighth capped a ferocious rally by East Carolina, lifting the Pirates to a 9-8 win over the Western Carolina Catamounts in Friday’s first game of the NCAA Regional at Chapel Hill. It capped a long afternoon of baseball on a scorching hot day at Boshamer Stadium.
The No. 2 seed Pirates (40-21) will play UNC at 5 p.m. today.
The No. 3 seed Catamounts (40-19) will face Jacksonville at 1 p.m.
The Pirates banged out 15 hits off three Catamount pitchers. Ray and Kyle Roller had three apiece, while Ryan Tousley, Brandon Henderson and Drew Schieber all had two.
None was bigger than Ray’s bases-loaded two-run single off losing pitcher Greg Holland (4-4).
The Pirates were able to take their first lead of the game in the eighth. Harrison Eldridge drew a walk and Ryan Wood reached on an infield hit to start the rally. After Stephen Batts moved the runners across., Ryan Tousley was intentionally walked to load the bases. Ray laced a single up the middle to score two, giving the Pirates a 9-8 lead.
Once the Pirates had the lead, Shane Mathews made sure they kept it. The ECU junior retired the side in order in the ninth, two by strikeout, to close the deal. He picked up his 14th save in the process.
It was the only time the Catamounts went down in order all game.
Western Carolina, which managed just three hits in a 3-2 loss to ECU earlier in the year, ripped 16 hits in the game.
Barrett Shaft banged out four hits, Kenny Smith and John Ingram had three each and Steven Strausbaugh and Donnie Wilson added two apiece.
However, it was ECU that got the biggest hits in the game.
Western Carolina took advantage of a struggling ECU starter T.J. Hose, who didn’t make it out of the second inning, to take an early 3-0 lead. Hose allowed five runs on six hits while hitting two batters and walking one in the two innings of work.
Hose allowed the first five batters of the game to reach base. Smith ripped a bases-loaded single to knock in the first run. Hose then plunked Jonathan Greene to force in the second. The third run scored when John Ingram bounced into a double play.
The Pirates answered with two runs off Tyler Sexton in the bottom half. Batts slapped a two-out single into left, extending his hitting streak to 27 games, the second longest in team history, to start the rally. Steve Sides hold the mark with a 28-game streak set in 1987.
Tousley followed with an RBI double into center. Ray then blooped a single into right, scoring Tousley to pull the Pirates within 3-2.
The Catamounts went up 4-2 in the second on Blake Murphy’s two-out RBI double.
After giving up a leadoff double to Smith to lead off the third, Hose (five runs on six hits in two innings) was replaced by Bailey Daniels. Smith eventually scored when Nick Liles reached on a fielder’s choice for a 5-2 lead.
Brandon Henderson’s RBI single in the bottom half scored Ray, who had reached on a two-out error, to pull ECU within 5-3.
Tousley made it a one-run game in the fifth. The senior hit a two-out solo shot to right, his team-leading 11th of the season, to pull the Pirates within 5-4. It was Tousley’s first home run since April 22, a span of 21 games.
The Catamounts answered with three runs in the sixth to go up 8-4. Smith and Greene had consecutive RBI singles. Smith raced home on Greene’s hit on a throwing error by the Pirates.
That ended the day for Daniels, who surrendered three runs on eight hits in 3 1/3 innings of work.
After reliever Brett Butts walked the only batter he faced, which loaded the bases, Josh Ruhlman, who went on to pitch one inning, got out of the jam by getting a double play ball.
Chris Masters came on for Sexton, who allowed four runs (three earned) on seven hits with seven strikeouts in five innings, to start the sixth. The Pirates got to the Catamount reliever, who went on two allow three runs on five hits in 1 1/3 innings, in a hurry.
After consecutive singles by Henderson and Drew Schieber, pinch hitter Corey Kemp blasted a three-run shot to left. Kemp’s fifth homer of the season, his first in 10 games, pulled ECU within 8-7.
ECU senior Jason Neitz came on with one out and two on in the seventh and got a double play ball to end the inning, keeping it a one-run game. Neitz (5-2) earned the victory after throwing 1 2/3 innings of one-hit ball.
That helped set the stage for ECU’s decisive eighth inning.
Dustin Sasser (5-4), who gets the start today for the Pirates, will look to make it two straight.