ECU escapes, advances to Super Regionals|Harris delivers key blows to top Gamecocks

Published 11:51 pm Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Sports Editor

GREENVILLE — East Carolina’s dream of reaching Omaha is alive and kicking.
Devin Harris capped off a remarkable rally by the Pirates, slapping the game-winning single in the 10th inning for a 10-9, come-from-behind victory over the South Carolina Gamecocks. Monday night’s win in the 2009 NCAA Greenville Regional at Clark-LeClair Stadium, the third straight in an elimination game, advanced the Pirates to their third Super Regionals in school history.
 “I’m very proud of our players and what they accomplished,” ECU coach Billy Godwin said. “To play five games in three days and come back and win three in a row was absolutely outstanding. I couldn’t be any prouder of these guys.”
Harris (4-for-5, 5 RBIs) came up clutch twice. In the 10th, ECU’s first extra-inning game of the season, Kyle Roller smacked a one-out double off the wall in center field. Brandon Henderson was then intentionally walked. One out later, Harris stepped into the batter’s box to face Sam Dyson.
Harris drilled a shot into center field. Roller motored around the bases and just beat USC center fielder Whit Merrifield’s throw to the plate, prompting a mass celebration at home plate by the Pirates.
The top-seeded Pirates (46-18), who beat No. 2 seed South Carolina (40-23) two straight nights for the regional title, travel to Chapel Hill to face the North Carolina Tar Heels (45-16), the No. 4 national seed, in the NCAA Super Regionals. The best-of-three series will begin Saturday at Boshamer Stadium. The tournament is slated for a noon start Saturday, with games continuing Sunday at noon and Monday at noon or 7 p.m., if necessary.
Each Super Regional winner advances to the College World Series in Omaha.
“They have a great club and they’ve had an outstanding year,” Godwin said of the Tar Heels. “It will be an absolute battle. We’ll go over there and play our hearts out, I’m sure.”
Harris helped the never-say-die Pirates get into extra innings. Trailing 9-6 heading into the bottom of the ninth, Henderson and Dustin Harrington drew consecutive walks. Harris followed by smashing the biggest home run of his career, a three-run blast into left off USC reliever Curtis Johnson (2-1) that tied the game at 9-9. It was the 14th of the year for Harris.
“I’ve hit home runs, but I say by far that’s the biggest I’ve ever hit,” Harris said. “He hung the slider a little bit and I made good contact with it.”
South Carolina built leads of 6-0 and 7-2, but the Pirates chipped away all night.
“They did a heck of a job,” South Carolina coach Ray Tanner said of the Pirates. “They were the No. 1 seed here and were trying to defend their turf. They have outstanding talent and they came through in a big way tonight.
“They have a great club and it wasn’t just this weekend. They’ve been doing it all year.”
Merrifield (4-for-6) gave South Carolina a 1-0 lead with a first-inning single.
The Gamecocks chased ECU starter Patrick Somers and reliever Chris Heston during a five-run third, going up 6-0 in the process. Scott Wingo, the ninth batter in the order who entered with a .196 batting average, belted a two-run homer into right to cap the scoring.
Ryan Wood’s two-run homer in the fifth, his 14th, pulled the Pirates within 6-2.
Justin Dalles smacked a bases-loaded RBI single in the sixth for a 7-2 lead.
The Pirates answered with a pair of runs in the bottom half. Jared Avchen’s RBI double and Trent Whitehead’s sac fly pulled ECU within 7-4.
ECU tacked on two more in the seventh to make it 7-6. Harrington and Harris smacked consecutive RBI singles to make it a one-run game.
The Gamecocks gained some breathing room in the eighth. Jackie Bradley Jr. belted a two-run shot. The blow, coming off ECU closer Seth Simmons (3-1), who gave up two runs on five hits while fanning six in 3 1/3 innings, handed South Carolina a 9-6 lead.
The Harris blow tied it in the bottom of the ninth.
Harris came through again in the 10th, sending the Pirates to the Super Regionals for the third time. ECU lost twice to South Carolina in the 2004 Super Regionals in Columbia, and lost twice to Tennessee in the 2001 Super Regionals in Kinston.
ECU’s Mike Wright (1-2), a freshman right-hander, earned the first win of his career. He fanned one and walked one in 1 1/3 innings.
“For Michael Wright to stand out there at the end of the game, and keep us in the game as a freshman, is absolutely outstanding,” Godwin said. “It showed tremendous character and poise.”
Whitehead, a former standout at Washington High School, was voted the Most Outstanding Player of the Tournament.
2009 NCAA Greenville Regional
All-Tournament Team
Most Outstanding Player: Trent Whitehead, ECU
Catcher: Justin Dalles, South Carolina
Infielder: Bobby Haney, South Carolina
Infielder: Brandon Henderson, ECU
Infielder: Ryan Wood, ECU
Infielder: Dave Ciocchi, Binghamton
Outfielder: Jackie Bradley Jr., South Carolina
Outfielder: Trent Whitehead, ECU
Outfielder: Corey Taylor, Binghamton
Pitcher: Blake Cooper, South Carolina
Pitcher: Kevin Brandt, ECU
Utility/DH: Kyle Roller, ECU
2009 NCAA Greenville Regional
Clark-LeClair Stadium
Friday’s Games
Game 1: (2) South Carolina 11, George Mason (3) 3
Saturday’s Games
Game 2: (1) East Carolina 11, (4) Binghamton 7
Game 3: Binghamton 11, George Mason 6, George Mason eliminated
Game 4: South Carolina 12, East Carolina 2
Sunday’s Games
Game 5: East Carolina 16, Binghamton 9, Binghamton eliminated
Game 6: East Carolina 8, South Carolina 6
Monday’s Game
Game 7: East Carolina 10, South Carolina 9, 10 innings, East Carolina advances