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ECU’s season ends in AAC title game

CLEARWATER, Fla. — After beating down Central Florida in its American Athletic Conference opener, East Carolina blanked the Knights, 4-0, on Saturday to advance to Sunday’s championship game against Houston.

ECU left 10 runners on base as the Cougars scored a run apiece in six-straight innings to win the conference title, 6-0, ending the Pirates’ season in the process. The AAC championship was their last shot at an NCAA regional berth. They surged past two postseason-bound teams in the Knights and Bulls, but couldn’t complete the storybook run through the tournament.

The end of the season is disappointing for a team that was ranked in the top 10 in the preseason.

“I’m more sorry to the seniors that I couldn’t help them win more games,” coach Cliff Godwin said in a note posted to Twitter. “This senior class will always hold a very special place in my heart.”

Charlie Yorgan, Wesley Phillips, Kirk Morgan, Travis Watkins, Eric Tyler, Bryce Harman, Jacob Wolfe, Evan Kruczynski and Luke Bolka all played their last games in ECU’s purple and gold. The nine-man group endured a coaching change when Godwin was hired three years ago. They won the AAC tournament in his first season and came 90 feet from a trip to the College World Series a year ago.

“As an alum I’m proud to know they are forever a part of ECU,” Godwin wrote. “They all have made ECU a better place! They made me a better person and better coach each day! I love each on of them like my own and now we will be friends forever!”

Kruczynski, on abbreviated rest, took the ball to start the game. Houston tagged him for two runs (both earned) on seven hits in his four innings. Connor Hollis and Jake Scheiner notched consecutive singles before Corey Julks’ double plated Hollis for the game’s first run in the third inning.

The Pirate ace was able to stop the bleeding quickly, though. He struck out the next two batters he faced to strand two Cougars on base.

ECU, trailing 2-0 in the bottom of the fourth, had the tying runs on when Spencer Brickhouse and Turner Brown were able to get back-to-back two-out singles on Houston starter John King. Both were left on, though, as Dwanya Williams-Sutton grounded out.

King rolled through 6 2/3 scoreless innings for the Cougars. The Pirates had another chance to chip away at their deficit in the sixth. They runners on the corners with one out, but King got out of the jam when Brown grounded into a 6-4-3 double play.

Their best chance at a momentum swing came in the bottom of the seventh. The Cougars led 5-0, but faced trouble when King walked Brady Lloyd, conceded a double to Bolka, then hit Yorgen with a pitch to load the bases with two outs.

That marked the end of King’s afternoon. Joey Pulido came out of the bullpen with Watkins due up. Watkins was a postseason hero for the Pirates a year ago when he drilled a three-run shot to walk off on defending NCAA champion Virginia in the Charlottesville Regional.

Another heroic home run — rather, a grand slam — would have made it a one-run game. Instead, Watkins chopped at the first pitch from Pulido and popped it up into the infield.

Godwin made a myriad of pitching changes after Kruczynski put in his four innings of work. Six Pirate pitchers combined to throw the remaining five innings. Chris Holba faced just two batters and Ross Ryan faced only one. None lasted longer than 1 2/3 innings.

Houston advanced to host its regional. UCF and USF are both No. 2 seeds in their respective regionals.