No. 20 Pirates crowned C-USA champions|Sweep Tigers, earn top seed for tournament

Published 9:04 pm Sunday, May 17, 2009

Sports Editor

GREENVILLE — Brandon Henderson’s walk-off two-run blast put the exclamation point on East Carolina’s first Conference USA championship since 2004.
The No. 20 Pirates (41-15, 17-7) finished a dominating sweep of the Memphis Tigers (21-32, 7-16) in Saturday’s regular-season finale, cruising to a 13-2 victory in seven innings at Clark-LeClair Stadium.
“To go out like that was very special,” Henderson said. “To come out here and play as well as we did this weekend with what we had on the line is great.”
The Pirates won the title outright, and earned the top seed for the C-USA Tournament, after Rice (35-15, 16-8) lost 15-12 to UAB on Saturday.
Coach Billy Godwin, who was doused with a Gatorade shower during a postgame interview, was thrilled for his players.
“We talk about this all the time when we’re recruiting,” Godwin said. “We tell players that we want them to come here to win championships. These guys did that today.
“This is a good sense of accomplishment and I’m proud of all these guys. This is really special.”
Godwin is happy his conference champion Pirates will enter the upcoming C-USA Tournament, which will be held Wednesday through Sunday in Hattiesburg, Miss., with some serious momentum. The Pirate, who have won six straight and nine of their last 10 games, will face No. 8 seed UCF (22-33, 9-15) in Wednesday’s first-round game.
ECU will be playing for its first C-USA Tournament title since 2002.
“We’re playing good at the right time,” Godwin said. “As a coach, you just hope it carries over.”
ECU starter Brad Mincey (9-4) was effective in his five innings of work on Saturday. He allowed a run on five hits while striking out four batters.
The offense gave Mincey plenty of run support. The Pirates finished with 14 hits as each starter collected at least one hit.
“This is awesome,” said Ryan Wood, who had three hits, scored three runs and drove in two. “It’s a great feeling.”
Stephen Batts ripped a pair of doubles and drove in three. Austin Homan and Drew Schieber had two hits apiece.
Trent Whitehead, a former Washington Pam Pack star, extended his hitting streak to nine games. The sophomore scored three times and stole two bases, while finishing with five putouts from his centerfield position.
“This is an unbelievable feeling,” said Whitehead, who received Hitter-of-the-Year honors from “The Jungle” after the game. “This is actually the first championship I’ve ever had. It couldn’t have come with a better group of guys.”
The Pirates jumped out to a 3-0 lead and chased Memphis starter Marc Ashley (1-3) in the first inning. Whitehead drew a leadoff walk, stole second and raced home on Wood’s single into center. Wood scored on a double off the bat of Batts, while Henderson’s sac fly scored Batts.
“We wanted to come out and put up some runs early,” Wood said. “That was big.”
Batts laced a two-run double in the second for a 5-0 advantage.
Homan singled and eventually scored on a wild pitch in the third to make it 6-0.
ECU extended its lead to 9-0 in the fifth. Jared Avchen belted an RBI double, while Whitehead and Wood had run-scoring singles.
Jacob Wilson’s RBI single in the top of the sixth got Memphis on the scoreboard.
The Pirates answered in the bottom half on Schieber’s run-scoring knock.
Henderson’s two-run blast capped a three-run seventh, giving the Pirates the 13-2 win.
C-USA Standings
East Carolina 17-7 41-15
Rice 16-8 35-15
Houston 13-11 25-29
Tulane 13-11 32-23
Southern Miss 12-12 32-22
UAB 11-12 30-24
Marshall 9-15 22-30
UCF 9-15 22-33
Memphis 7-16 21-32
May 20-24
Pete Taylor Park
Hattiesburg, Miss.
Wednesday’s Games
Game 1) 10 a.m. – Houston vs. UAB
Game 2) 1:30 p.m. – Rice vs. Marshall
Game 3) 5 p.m. – East Carolina vs. UCF
Game 4) 8:30 p.m. – Tulane vs. Southern Miss
Thursday’s Games
Game 5) 10 a.m. – Game 1 loser vs. Game 2 loser
Game 6) 1:30 p.m. – Game 3 loser vs. Game 4 loser
Game 7) 5 p.m. – Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner
Game 8) 8:30 p.m. – Game 3 winner vs. Game 4 winner
Friday’s Games
Game 9) 4 p.m. – Game 5 winner vs. Game 7 loser
Game 10) 7:30 p.m. – Game 6 winner vs. Game 8 loser
Saturday’s Games
Game 11) 10 a.m. – Game 7 winner vs. Game 9 winner
Game 12) 1:30 p.m. – Game 8 winner vs. Game 10 winner
Game 13) 5 p.m. – TBA, if necessary
Game 14) 8:30 p.m. – TBA, if necessary
Sunday’s Games
2 p.m. – Championship game