Never say die

Published 8:53 pm Saturday, March 26, 2011

East Carolina’s Zach Wright eyes a pitch during a game against Rutgers earlier this year. On Saturday, Wright hit a two-run, walk-off homer in the ninth to lift the Pirates to a 5-3 victory over Memphis in the second game of a doubleheader. (WDN Photo/Edwin Modlin II)

GREENVILLE — It’s just going to be that kind of season for the Pirates. East Carolina’s Zach Wright blasted a walk-off home run off of Memphis reliever Erik Schoenrock to not only steal a 5-3 victory, but a series win.

So far this season East Carolina (18-5, 2-1) has played 23 game this year with over half of them being decided by two runs or less, and by now winning in any fashion other than thrilling would just be awkward.

“I wish I could bottle it and get them to focus (in innings) one through eight,” East Carolina coach Billy Godwin said. “But, they are a group of competitors. They don’t ever die. They don’t ever quit. They are fun to be around, they are fun to coach … Forget the bunts, the base running gaffs, the errors; you want competitors and that’s what we have.”

East Carolina opened its first Conference USA series of the season on Friday as staff ace Seth Maness led the team to a 3-2 victory. Fear of rain forced the two teams into a doubleheader on Saturday and Memphis struck first as it took a 3-2 victory in Game 1.

In the second game of the day the Pirates committed a few base running miscues, and in the seventh inning starting pitcher Kevin Brandt (7 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 2 K) threw three wild pitches as ECU’s 2-1 lead turned into a Memphis 3-2 advantage. However, all of that was temporarily forgiven once Wright’s homer cleared the fence for the team’s fourth walk-off win this year.

“Coach talked to us about how the pitcher is going to make a mistake once an at-bat, so that’s what we try to capitalize on,” Wright said. “I knew he was going to try and over power me with a fastball because he had a little velocity, but he made a mistake and threw it right down the middle and I connected with it.”

Wright’s team-leading seventh homer of the season was his first career walk-off hit as a Pirate.

Of all the East Carolina’s players, Brandt, who was in line to take the loss, was the most elated as he raced towards Wright and gave him a huge bear hug upon the conclusion of the game.

“It’s huge, absolutely huge. It’s always good to come out and know you have won the first series in conference play,” Brandt said.

Brad Mincey relieved Brandt in the top of the eighth and recorded two outs before Jake Harris came in to get the final out of the inning.

Mincey had his 22 inning scoreless streaked snapped in the first game when the Tigers scored an unearned run.

ECU closer Seth Simmons (3-0, 0.00) pitched a scoreless ninth to get the win. Simmons, the school’s all-time saves leader, has struck out 20 batters in 12 2-3 innings pitched this season.

After taking the lead in the seventh, it looked as if the Tigers were going to leave Greenville handing East Carolina back-to-back losses for the first time since it played then 10th-ranked Virginia in the second week of the season. However, the never-say-die Pirates had other thoughts as they pieced together a two-out rally to overtake the Tigers (12-10, 1-2).

Trailing 3-2 in the bottom of the ninth, Tim Younger and Trent Whitehead both recorded outs to start the inning. The Pirates pulse picked up a bit when Corey Thompson reached base on a error, and it began thumping faster when Thompson got to second on a Schoenrock wild pitch.

With Thompson now in scoring position, Godwin used backup catcher Joshua Lovick as a pinch runner. The move paid off as Lovick raced home from second base on a John Wooten RBI single that tied the game at 3-3.

“He got down 0-2 … but I thought when he turned on that good breaking ball and fouled it off I said ‘oh he’s locked in right here,’” Godwin said of Wooten’s at-bat. “It was good to see John come through in that situation.”

On a cold, overcast day, Wright made sure fans would not have to wait around to watch extra innings as he followed up Wooten’s at-bat by blasting a Schoenrock offering over the left field fence to kick off a wild celebration.

“It’s huge, in the end it’s about winning the series,” Godwin said. “In our league you want to get off to a good start … At the end of the year the committee starts looking they say ‘well how many series did you win?’ So you want to win every game, but in the big picture winning the series is huge.”

Along with Wright (2-4 2 RBI), the Pirates got a big day from freshman Jack Reinheimer who went 3-for-3 and Tim Younger who ended the day 2-for-4.

The Pirates will be back in action on Tuesday when they play at UNC-Wilmington.