Pirates see season come to an end
By KEVIN TRAVIS, Sports Editor
CHAPEL HILL — This one was all about heart … and patience.
One day after a heartbreaking 11-10 loss to North Carolina, and then having to wait through three delays spanning six hours because of inclement weather, East Carolina returned to Boshamer Stadium with the daunting task of keeping its season alive.
Unfortunately, the Pirates couldn’t mend their wounded hearts.
The No. 2 seed Pirates (40-23), who beat No. 3 seed Western Carolina (42-19) in the first round of the NCAA Chapel Hill Regional, clashed with the Catamounts again in Sunday’s elimination game.
It was the Catamounts who kept their season alive, while sending the Pirates home for the season, with a 9-5 victory.
Western Carolina plays the top seed and third-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels (50-12) today. If the Tar Heels win, they will be crowned champions and advance to the Super Regionals. If Western Carolina wins, the teams will meet again to decide the champions.
Western Carolina’s first win in three tries against the Pirates this season landed the Catamounts in the regional championship game.
Stephen Batts got the Pirates off on the right foot. The sophomore blasted a two-run home run in the first inning for a quick 2-0 lead, coming on the heels of a leadoff double by Harrison Eldridge. Batts’ sixth home run of the year gave him a school-record 29-game hitting streak, eclipsing the mark of 28 that he had shared with Steve Sides (1987).
Corey Kemp’s RBI double in the second made it 3-0. It also meant the end of the night for Western Carolina starter Corey Martin, who allowed the three runs on six hits in just 1 1/3 innings.
The Catamounts rallied with four runs in the bottom half off ECU starter Josh Dowdy (5-2). Kenny Smith’s 20th home run of the season started the rally. Brent Greer‘s bases-loaded clearing double, which handed the Catamounts a 4-3 lead, was the big blow.
Jamie Ray‘s RBI single in the top of the third, which extended his hitting streak to 15 games, tied things up at 4-4.
The Catamounts took a 6-4 advantage in the bottom half on John Ingram’s two-run homer, his 13th of the year.
Jake Dean, who singled and went to third on Kemp’s fourth double of the tournament, scored on a passed ball in the fourth to make it a one-run game, 6-5.
Despite putting some good swings on balls, the Pirates wouldn’t score again.
Catamount reliever Brock Thornburg (4-2) shut down the Pirates after that. Thornburg allowed two runs (one earned) on five hits in 5 1/3 innings, striking out two and walking three.
Chris Masters kept the Pirates off the scoreboard for the final 2 1/3 innings, striking out four in the process.
Ingram, who went 3-for-4 with three RBIs, spanked an RBI triple in the fifth to push Western Carolina’s lead back to two at 7-5.
That was it for Dowdy, who was roughed up for seven runs on nine hits in five innings.
The Catamounts added a pair of insurance runs in the eighth off relievers Bailey Daniels (one run on one hit with two strikeouts in two innings) and Josh Ruhlman. Donnie Wilson walked and scored when Ray misplayed Barrett Shaft’s single in left. Blake Murphy’s ground out plated another run to make it 9-5.
T.J. Hose got the final two outs in the eighth.
While the Catamounts look to extend their season today, Godwin and the Pirates can only look ahead to next year.