Cotton pitches Pirates past Rice

Published 4:32 am Monday, April 23, 2012

HOUSTON, Texas — Junior Jharel Cotton picked up his Conference USA leading seventh win working 6 1/3 solid innings, while Drew Reynolds notched his team and league best eighth save as No. 24 East Carolina (27-13-1, 9-5-1) avoided a series sweep at No. 7 Rice (30-12, 11-4) Sunday afternoon, 4-3.

Reynolds, who entered the game in the ninth with a runner on second, allowed one hit in an inning of relief with one strikeout and got Derek Hamilton to ground into a game-ending double play to preserve the win for the Pirates.

Cotton (7-0) allowed a pair of runs (both earned) on nine hits and retired 11 of his last 15 batters before being lifted for lefty Jake Harris, who faced one batter allowing a hit to Stringer before freshman Jeff Hoffman entered the game in the seventh. The tall freshman allowed one run on one hit with a pair of strikeouts and two walks in 1 2/3 innings of relief.

Rice starter Andrew Benak lasted 4 2/3 innings allowing four runs (all earned) on eight hits with two walks and two punch outs. The Owls’ bullpen allowed one walk and hit one batter in 4 1/3 hitless frames. Sophomore right-hander John Simms relieved Benak in the fifth tossing two perfect innings before passing the ball off to Taylor Wall, who tossed 1 1/3 innings. Tyler Duffey closed the game with a perfect ninth frame.

The Pirates used three singles and a RBI ground out in the top of the fourth to take a 3-1 lead. Corey Thompson walked to start the frame, John Wooten followed with a single to left and Zach Wright singled to right and advanced to second on a throwing error by Jeremy Rathjen, which scored Thompson to tie the game.

Philip Clark continued the inning with an RBI ground out to second that scored Wooten. Wright would come home to score on Jack Reinheimer’s sac fly to center capping the three-run frame.

ECU added a run in the fourth taking a 4-1 lead on Wooten’s RBI single. Tim Younger led off the stanza with a single to right center and took second on Drew Reynolds’ single back up the middle. After Thompson hit into a 6-4-3 double play, which moved Younger to third, Wooten sent a dribbler through the left side plating Younger.

Rice jumped out to an early 1-0 lead on Craig Manuel’s single to right field. Christian Stringer started the frame with a single to right field, which was followed by a one-out single also to right field putting runners on the corner for Manuel, who drove in his fifth run of the series plating Stringer.

The Owls pulled within two, 4-2, in the bottom of the seventh on an RBI single by Stringer that plated Ratterree from second base. Ratterree led off with an infield single to short and moved into scoring position on Michael Fuda’s single up the middle.

Stringer’s game-high fourth hit scored Keenan Cook in the ninth inning to close the game at 4-3. Cook, who pinch hit for Ryan Lewis, led off with a double down the left field line and scored on Stringer’s infield single to short that took a wicked hop at the heel of Reinheimer’s glove. Hamilton battled Reynolds at the dish before grounding into the twin killing.

The Pirates will return to action on Wednesday, Apr. 25 when they travel to instate foe No. 6 North Carolina. First pitch is scheduled for 6 p.m. (EST).