ECU, Texas Tech clash for spot in Omaha

Published 4:50 pm Thursday, June 9, 2016

LUBBOCK, Texas — The East Carolina baseball team is just two wins away from its first ever trip to the College World Series, but standing in the way is the No. 5 team in the country, Texas Tech.

It’s uncharted territory for the Pirates (37-21-1, 15-8-1 American Athletic Conference), who have not been to a super regional since 2009. The Red Raiders (44-17, 19-5 Big 12), on the other hand, hosted a super regional in 2014 and reached the College World Series.

This season’s top-offensive weapons for Texas Tech — Stephen Smith, Tyler Neslony and Eric Gutierrez — each made starts in the College World Series appearance two years ago.

“They’re experienced. They’ve hosted two super regionals in three years,” head coach Cliff Godwin said. “I know it’s going to be a rowdy crowd there. So we’ll need to be able to go in there and play in a difficult venue.”

Evan Kruczynski will toe the hill for ECU in the super regional opener while Texas Tech may counter with a true freshman in Davis Martin. Martin was typically the Friday night starter for the Red Raiders throughout the season and pitched the opening game of their regional against Fairfield.

The 6-foot-2 righty was undefeated in his 17 appearances (12 starts) and registered a 2.31 ERA. He pitches to contact as he struck out just 56 batters over 78 innings of work. In his first high-pressure postseason start, Martin conceded three runs on six hits over 5 1/3 innings of work. He did not post a decision as his team fell to West Virginia 9-4 in the second round of the Big 12 tournament.

Fellow freshman Steven Gingery is a likely candidate to take the ball in the second game. The southpaw logged a 3.38 ERA in 12 starts, along with a 4-2 record in his first collegiate season. Gingery also struck out 56 batters over the season, but he threw just 58 2/3 innings over the season.

In Gingery’s start during the regional, New Mexico gave him fits over three innings as he struggled to find his control (four walks) and allowed three runs on three hits while throwing 85 pitches.

Senior outfielder Parker Lamm said in the playoffs, it gets easier to throw away rankings and regular season statistics.

“They’re a great team, but right now, at the point in the season, everyone is good,” Lamm said. “You just have to be on your p’s and q’s and just play the best baseball you can. Bring energy like we do every time and just play hard.”

Godwin and players alike repeatedly mentioned a team meeting following the elimination from the AAC tournament. Players shared what the team meant to them and, from there, things started to click.

“I guess we had a come to Jesus moment when we got back (from the tournament),” said second baseman Charlie Yorgen. “We really got after it and decided we needed to play with more heart and we emphasized that this was our family and we wanted to play for one another. Once you get caught up in your teammates’ success, it’s hard not to play well.”

It showed through in Charlottesville as, defensively, players sacrificed their bodies. They came up with multiple highlight-reel plays from Lamm and Brooks’ diving catches to Eric Tyler’s cross-diamond double play.

ECU and Texas Tech will play a best-of-three series at Rip Griffin Park in Lubbock. The first pitch of the Lubbock Super Regional will be thrown at 8 p.m. Friday before a 3 p.m. first pitch Saturday. If necessary, Sunday’s game would start at 3 p.m.