Late-game drama pushes Pirates past Wolfpack

Published 10:52 am Wednesday, April 22, 2015

GREENVILLE — East Carolina Athletic Director Jeff Compher met Pirate head coach Cliff Godwin on the field for a congratulatory handshake following the 6-5 victory over N.C. State on Tuesday night.

“Never a doubt,” Compher told his first-year coach under the lights of Clark-LeClair Stadium.

In a game that featured three lead changes, including a ninth inning, go-ahead home run by N.C. State’s Chance Shepard, he couldn’t have possibly meant it.

Doubtful wouldn’t have been such a poor choice of words when talking about ECU’s chances going into the bottom of the ninth down 5-4. After all, the Pirates had manufactured just five hits up to that point and their four runs were aided by three N.C. State errors.

But a Pirate win became a little more likely when senior Reid Love led off the bottom of the ninth and laced his first career triple to the left-center gap.

With no outs and Love on third, N.C. State committed its fourth and final error of the night after a dropped fly ball by left fielder Brock Deatherage.

It was as fatal a blunder as it gets, the demoralized outfielder picking up the ball and tossing it back into the infield with Love trotting back to the dugout — home plate in his rear view mirror and the scoreboard reading a 5-5 tie.

“I was just looking for something to drive and get on base, get in scoring position,” Love said. “Luckily I got a pitch to hit and I drove it. It felt great.”

ECU’s Kirk Morgan ended the painful Wolfpack loss with a shot down the right field line, scoring Eric Tyler and propelling the Pirates to a victory trot around the outfield where the outstretched arms of purple and gold clad fans waited eagerly to thank the night’s victors.

“It’s awesome,” Morgan said after the game. “It’s hard to describe. That was hard, it’s a big rivalry game, and there are so many people out here. We didn’t lose a heartbeat in the dugout; we knew we were going to win. That’s a big win right there, it’s exciting.”

Midweek games college baseball games in late April don’t necessarily seem all that appealing at first. Teams are jockeying for position within their respective conferences and though non-conference matchups might help a team’s RPI, it doesn’t do much justice in the standings.

Exceptions can be made to the case, though, and an in-state rivalry akin to the one between the Wolfpack and Pirates stands as just that.

“It’s a rivalry game and you play for something in April,” Morgan said. “Coming down the stretch we want to keep playing the baseball that we are and it’s a big win.”

Victors of five of their last six, the Pirates managed just seven hits on the night — six fewer than their opponent. Just two ECU batters, Reid Love and Morgan, managed more than one hit, but thanks to a small-ball revival by Godwin and company were able to push more runs across.

Four total bunts and five pitchers later, Evan Voliva earned his second win of the season, and the Pirates earned their second ninth-inning victory of the year.

It wasn’t a flashy finish by any means. A walk-off dropped fly ball by a left fielder isn’t the glorious walk-off home run that every player dreams off. Nonetheless, it doesn’t discredit the exciting finish.

“I challenge any baseball team in the country to say that they have worked as hard as we have,” Godwin said. “We wanted to find out who wanted to be here … who wanted to wear the purple and gold. I’m just proud of them.”