Late push lets Pirates snap St. John’s undefeated start

Published 10:03 pm Saturday, March 4, 2017

GREENVILLE — Saturday’s game between an undefeated St. John’s club and No. 9 East Carolina had the mystique of postseason play behind it. The Red Storm came in having won each of its first nine games, and the Pirates had swept six since being swept at Ole Miss on the first weekend of the season.

It played out with that excitement, too. The fans were rowdy for the clash between two heavyweights in the Keith LeClair Classic. After retiring St. John’s in order in the top of the eighth, the Pirates broke a 3-3 tie with four runs to go on to win, 7-4.

“It was a regional-type atmosphere,” coach Cliff Godwin said. “It was competitive. You talk about a great program. St. John’s was undefeated that beat some great teams this year. They wanted to win real hard.”

With one out, Travis Watkins singled through the right side. Red Storm reliever handed the ball over to Aaron Herr. Kirk Morgan stepped up as a pinch hitter and executed a picture-perfect hit and run. Watkins ended up scoring on a wild pitch, and Turner Brown followed up by belting a two-run double through the left side. Eric Tyler pushed ECU’s lead to 7-3 with a bunt single that plated Charlie Yorgen.

“I’d like to say we’re resilient,” Yorgen said. “It just stems from our culture. … The daily preparation and everything we go through, it pays off in things like that. I’m really proud of Turner and Kirk. They’re unbelievable teammates. They showed it when it really matters.”

The Pirates set the tone right away. After setting down St. John’s first three batters, they turned around to score the game’s first run. Yorgen notched the game’s first hit with a well-placed bunt on the third-base line. He came around on Luke Bolka’s single to right-center.

The Red Storm tied the game with a run in the third before taking the lead in the fifth frame. Starting pitcher Jacob Wolfe got in a jam when the visitors loaded the bases with no outs.

Tyler Smith took over from there and struck out the next two batters St. John’s sent to the plate. He nearly fanned another to escape unscathed, but the home-plate umpire called him for a borderline balk that sent the tying run in. The call fired up Godwin, who ended up getting ejected.

“I didn’t know what was going on,” Godwin said of his experience following the game in the clubhouse. “The video was a little bit delayed, so that made it worse. My heart rate was up worse in the office that it was in the dugout.”

Sam Lanier picked up the win. He took over for Smith in the sixth and went on to throw 2 2/3 innings, giving up an earned run on two hits. Matt Bridges took the ball in the ninth and got the save.