No. 24 Pirates stun No. 1 Tar Heels

Published 4:52 pm Thursday, April 23, 2009

By By KEVIN TRAVIS, Sports Editor
GREENVILLE — In a fresh “twist” for East Carolina, the No. 24 Pirates finally put an end to the Tar Heel jinx.
Riding the arm of freshman standout Kevin Brandt, who baffled the Tar Heels for 8 1/3 innings, the Pirates topped No. 1 North Carolina, 4-0, Wednesday evening. The win, snapping a nine-game skid against the Heels, was ECU’s first over UNC since a 2-1 nod on April 17, 2002.
“It means a lot,” ECU fourth-year coach Billy Godwin said of the win. “I’ve been telling our players all year that we have to believe we’re good.”
Brandt (6-1), a freshman lefty who got the win against instate-rival N.C. State one week earlier, was brilliant once again. He went a career-best 8 1/3 innings and fanned a career-high 10 batters.
“For what he did last week against N.C. State and then to come in and do it against the top-ranked team in the country, all I have to say is ‘wow,’” Godwin said.
The win came in front of a school and North Carolina regular-season college crowd 5,581 fans, topping the previous mark of 5,523 fans.
One of those fans in attendance was Chubby Checker, the national recording artist best known for “The Twist,” who threw out the first pitch.
Ryan Wood’s solo shot in the sixth had the Pirates (30-12, 10-5 C-USA), winners of two straight, dancing. ECU tacked on three insurance runs in the seventh against the Heels (32-11, 13-7 ACC), who saw their five-game winning streak come to an end.
“I was just trying to get a good pitch to hit,” Wood said. “I finally got one and made contact.
“This might be the last time we play them as seniors, and it feels good to finally get a win.”
Brandt, who has thrown 20 2/3 consecutive innings of shutout ball, only needed that one run to get the victory.
“That was a big win for the team,” Brandt said. “I didn’t think I was going to come out and do this (against the top-ranked team).”
Wood’s one-out smash in the sixth broke the 0-0 deadlock. The senior turned on a 2-2 pitch and crushed it over the fence in left-center.
Wood’s seventh homer of the season, and 28th of his career, was just the second hit for ECU and the third overall in the game.
UNC starter Patrick Johnson (2-1) had retired 12 of the previous 13 batters before Wood’s shot.
“That was big,” Brandt said of Wood’s homer. “I think that took a load off everybody’s shoulders because we didn’t feel like we had to press to hold them to zero runs.”
The Pirates went up 4-0 in the seventh, and chased Johnson in the process. Stephen Batts led off with a first-pitch single. The senior stole second and went to third on a throwing error. After Devin Harris drew a walk, Drew Schieber slapped a single into right that scored Batts.
That ended the night for Johnson (4 runs, 4 hits, 8 strikeouts, 3 walks in 6 innings), who was cruising until the sixth.
Reliever Nate Striz lasted just two batters. Dustin Harrington drew a walk to load the bases. Jared Avchen then fisted a single into shallow left, scoring two more runs for the 4-0 lead.
Brandt was cruising until the eighth. The lanky lefty retired 21 of 23 at one stretch, beaning one batter in the fifth and walking another in the seventh.
After giving up a two-out single to Dustin Ackley in the first, Brandt didn’t surrender another hit until the eighth. Ben Bunting and Garrett Gore collected consecutive two-out singles, but Brandt got Ackley, a likely first-round selection in the next Major League Draft, to bounce out to end the threat.
The Tar Heels threatened again in the ninth. Kyle Seager led off with a single and Ryan Graepel smacked a one-out double into left-center. ECU centerfielder Trent Whitehead nearly came up with the catch, but the sophomore smacked hard into the base of the wall and the bar was jarred free.
Whitehead stayed on the ground for a bit, but he ended up finishing the game.
“My head is hurting a little bit, but I’m fine,” Whitehead said. “I don’t know if I really got knocked out or not. It jarred me. When I first stood up, everything was kind of dizzy and my head was throbbing. I told (the coaches and trainers) I just wanted to walk it off and see what I could do.”
After Mike Cavasinni was plunked, that ended the night for Brandt. Seth Maness came on with the bases loaded and one out. The sophomore struck out pinch-hitter Brett Thomas, then got pinch-hitter Tarron Robinson to line out to Wood at second to end the game.
“It was a tough job,” said Maness, who picked up his second save. “All I could do was throw strikes and trust my stuff. Luckily, it worked out to our benefit.”
The Pirates return to Conference USA action this weekend. ECU and Southern Miss will play at 7 p.m. Friday, followed by a doubleheader beginning at 4 p.m. Saturday.