Pirates qualify for C-USA Tournament|Top Houston in last game of regular season

Published 6:38 pm Sunday, May 23, 2010

By By KEVIN TRAVIS, Sports Editor
GREENVILLE — They lived to play another game. Once the scoreboard flashed that UAB and UCF had won, East Carolina coach Billy Godwin and his Pirates could smile and breathe a huge sigh of relief. UAB’s win over Tulane and UCF’s victory over Rice, coupled with ECU’s 8-6 victory over Houston in Saturday’s regular-season finale, allowed the Pirates to sneak into the Conference USA Tournament.
“If you get the opportunity to get into the postseason, anything can happen,” Godwin said. “We’re just looking to play another day. It’s almost like it’s a new season.” The Pirates (31-25, 11-13 C-USA), who snapped a four-game losing streak with the win over the Cougars (24-20, 11-13 C-USA) at Clark-LeClair Stadium, did their part in trying to qualify for the C-USA Tournament. ECU then had to play the waiting game as it needed some help to get into the postseason tournament.
The Pirates will be the sixth seed for the C USA Tournament, which will be held Wednesday through Saturday in Houston. ECU will face top-seeded Rice (35-20, 17-7) at noon on Wednesday. “We didn’t control our own destiny, which is what you don’t like,” Godwin said. “All we could do was come out and win and then do a little scoreboard watching.” The Pirates got the win thanks to some clutch hitting late in the game, and a stellar relief outing. ECU used a three-run seventh inning to take an 8-6 lead.
Brad Mincey (3-1), who was spectacular in relief by throwing 3 2/3 innings of three-hit ball, made it stand up. “It was huge,” said ECU leadoff batter Trent Whitehead, who scored the game-winning run in the seventh. “We’ve been struggling lately and we knew what we had to do. We came out today and really battled. I’m really proud of these guys for never giving up.” Houston took a 2 0 lead in the third, benefiting from an ECU error and a balk call against ECU starter Shawn Armstrong (2 runs, 1 earned, 3 hits, 1 strikeout in 2 1/3 innings).
ECU responded with four runs in the bottom half. Corey Thompson (3-4, HR, 4 RBIs) delivered the key blow with a three-run shot, his eighth of the year. “We play well when our backs are against the wall,” Thompson said. Chris Gosik (1-3, 2B, RBI) added an RBI double in the inning.
The Cougars answered with a three-run fourth to take a 5-4 advantage. All three runs off reliever Kevin Brandt came with two outs.
Austin Gracey’s (2-3, HR, 3 RBIs) fifth home run, a two-run shot, tied the game at 4-4. ECU’s third error of the game gave Houston the lead. After Brandt (4 runs, 3 earned, 2 hits, 1 strikeout, 3 walks in 3 innings) allowed two to reach base in the sixth, Mincey came on in relief. With runners at first and third, Gracey’s sac bunt scored Chris Wallace for a 6-4 Houston lead. Mincey didn’t allow Houston another run.
A solo shot by Devin Harris (1-4, HR, RBI), his 11th of the year, pulled the Pirates within 6-5 in the sixth. That helped end the day for Houston starter Eric Brooks (5 runs, 6 hits, 9 strikeouts, 1 walk in 6 innings). ECU took the lead with three runs in the seventh. Cam Freeman (1-2, 2 runs) and Whitehead drew one-out walks. Thompson laced a single into left that scored Freeman with the tying run.
Kyle Roller (1-4, RBI), who had struck out in his previous three at bats, ripped a single into right to give ECU the lead. It was the 200th RBI of Roller’s career. Whitehead slid face-first across home plate on Roller’s hit, giving the Pirates a 7-6 advantage.
“I was just trying to spark us any way I could,” Roller said. “I had gotten myself into bad hitter’s counts. I got a change up and luckily hit it past the first baseman.” Jared Avchen (1-4, RBI) padded the lead with an RBI single, making it 8-6.
Whitehead made a diving catch in right-center to rob Joel Ansley of a hit to start the ninth. Two more strong defensive plays ended the game. “I knew that if we could get an out early, it would be big,” said Whitehead, a former standout at Washington High School. “It was a blooper so I knew that if I didn’t catch
it, it wasn’t going to go far from me. I just laid out and luckily I caught it.” The Pirates will look to ride that momentum into Houston. They need to win the tournament to make the regionals.