No. 15 Pirates rally to beat Knights|Whitehead collects three hits in victory
Published 9:44 pm Thursday, May 21, 2009
C-USA Sports Information
HATTIESBURG – UCF tried its hardest to make it two years in a row where the lowest seed toppled the regular-season champion in the opening round of the Conference USA baseball tournament. East Carolina simply refused to let it happen.
Catcher Jared Avchen's two-run double keyed a four-run, seventh inning as the top-seeded Pirates rallied for a 6-3 victory over the eighth-seeded Knights Wednesday evening at Pete Taylor Park.
"I think it kind of slaps you in the face a little bit, gets your attention," ECU coach Billy Godwin said. "It doesn't matter how much I tell them, because I knew it was probably going to be this type of game of game. So, I think does (help).
"You want to play your best baseball this time of the year, but you also win and move on."
ECU (42-15), which won its second C-USA regular-season baseball title to earn the No. 1 seed, will play at 8:30 p.m. today against the Tulane-University of Southern Mississippi winner.
The Pirates, who own the second-most wins in Division I and are ranked as high as No. 15 in the national polls, came into the tournament knowing they had to play well to solidify a shot at hosting a tournament of their next week, an NCAA Regional.
"We're very aware of it, and we still take every game the same way," said Avchen, who extended his hitting streak to 10 games. "But everybody knows that we have great fans, and we'd love to play in front of them. It would be huge, not only to sleep in our beds, but it would be a huge advantage to play in front of our fans.
"This was a big game, all the way around."
ECU, which led the league in hitting and pitching this season, relied upon its arms to keep it in the game while it waited for its bats to come around.
Starter Chris Heston gave up five hits – two of them solo home runs – as UCF (22-34) held a 2-0 lead through 5 1/2 innings. Designated hitter D.J. Hicks connected in the second inning and first baseman Kiko Vazquez went deep in the fourth.
The two shots gave the Knights a single-season record 68 home runs.
After ECU reliever Kevin Brandt (8-1) came on to quell a bases-loaded, one-out threat in the top of the sixth, Pirate left fielder Stephen Batts tied the game with his team-high 14th home run of the season off UCF right-hander Caleb Graham (4-3).
The Knights came right back, grabbing a 3-2 lead in the seventh on shortstop Eric Kallstrom's single, but ECU rallied in the bottom of the inning.
Singles by shortstop Dustin Harrington and third baseman Drew Schieber set the plate for Avchen, who ripped a one-out curveball off the wall in left-center field to give ECU a 4-3 lead.
"I got what I was looking for," Avchen said. "He had started everybody off-speed the whole game and that was the third time he had started me off with a curveball."
Hicks relieved Heston, and was greeted by a run-scoring double from center fielder Trent Whitehead, who had three hits and scored two runs. With two outs, Batts drove in his third run of the game with a single.
UCF fell into the elimination bracket and will play at 12:30 p.m. against the Tulane-USM loser.
"It was a tremendous college baseball game," UCF coach Terry Rooney said. "At the end of the day, East Carolina came up with a few bigger hits and a few bigger plays."