GREENVILLE—The East Carolina baseball team attempted to repeat its magic from Tuesday’s walk-off win in its series opener against the Memphis Tigers at Clark LeClair Stadium Friday. The Diamond Bucs relinquished their 3-0 advantage and rallied with a pair of runs in the ninth inning, but fell short this time around, 6-5.
ECU’s (21-21, 6-7 Conference USA) sophomore ace Jeff Hoffman cruised through his first six innings of work, but in the latter innings, the Tigers (26-17, 9-7 C-USA) came alive. Memphis scored three runs in the seventh, one in the eighth, and two more in the ninth.
Hoffman (4-5) was handed the loss after being charged with four of the runs in 8 1/3 innings pitched. He surrendered 12 hits and struck out seven.
In the bottom half of the ninth inning, second baseman Bryan Bass and shortstop Jack Reinheimer retired quickly, but the Pirates were quickly back within striking distance following a walk and a fielding error by first baseman Tucker Tubbs.
First baseman Chase McDonald followed with a single to keep the game alive and set the stage for Tuesday night’s hero, Ben Fultz, with the bases loaded. Fultz—who hit the walk-off home-run to beat Elon—did not disappoint Friday, landing a ball just-inside the right-field line to score Drew Reynolds and Zach Houchins and cut the Tigers lead to one run.
With runners on the corners, right-fielder Jay Cannon couldn’t complete the comeback, flying out to end the game.
“When you keep pinning yourself in a hole, it just makes it tougher. You’re not going to be able to come back from two or three runs down in every game,” said head coach Billy Godwin. “I couldn’t be any prouder of their effort, or their energy, and their intent in their at-bats.”
Reynolds started the offense for ECU in the bottom of the first, receiving a generous bounce that eluded Tubbs and resulted in a two-out double. Houchins followed suit by planting a double down the left-field line to score Reynolds and open scoring.
Hoffman gave up a hit in each of his nine innings of work, but ECU’s defense was outstanding behind him. The Pirates retired both the third and fourth frames with inning-ending double plays.
In the fifth, ECU extended its lead by stringing together four consecutive base-hits with two-outs, including RBI singles by Houchins and McDonald to push the lead back to 3-0. Houchins continues to swing the hottest bat for the Pirates, going 3-for-5 with two RBI’s and scoring a run.
Following a walk to load the bases, Tiger’s right-hander Clayton Gant relieved starter Erik Schoenrock and got out of the jam. Cannon flew out to centerfield on the first pitch he saw.
Memphis began the seventh with back-to-back singles and with one swing from No. 9 hitter Bryce Beeler, the Tigers were back on even terms with a three-run blast to left field. It was his first home run of the season.
“I feel like I threw well all-game. Obviously the outcome didn’t show it,” said Hoffman. “It was the seventh inning where I threw a change-up that was probably three-inches off the plate and (Beeler) takes it over the left-field fence.”
In the eighth inning, Memphis captured its first lead—4-3—on an RBI double by third baseman Drew Griffin, but couldn’t do anymore damage off Hoffman despite having runners on the corners.
The Tigers tacked on insurance in ninth, starting with a pair of throwing errors by Travis Watkins and Bryan Bass to score left-fielder Colton Simbeck. After striking out Beeler for the first out of the ninth, Hoffman’s night was finished. Tubbs stretched the lead to 6-3 later in the inning with an RBI single that plated shortstop Ethan Gross.
Both teams compiled a combined 25 hits on Friday, but Saturday’s game is expected to be a pitcher’s duel. Memphis left-hander Sam Moll owns a 6-3 record and has a 2.42 ERA. ECU will start redshirt-freshman David Lucroy, who is 4-1 with a microscopic 2.01 ERA.