GREENVILLE -- Early on in the season, East Carolina’s sophomore ace Jeff Hoffman found himself on the losing end of games that he pitched fabulously-well in, due to a lack of run support. In Friday’s series opener against the Conference USA-leading Southern Miss Golden Eagles, Hoffman wasn’t all that sharp. But the Pirates’ bats picked him up and ECU took game one of the weekend series at Clark LeClair Stadium, 6-3.
Southern Miss (24-19, 13-5 Conference USA) struck first with three runs in the top of the fourth inning, but ECU responded by scoring four in the bottom half, highlighted by first baseman Chase McDonald’s seventh home run of the season. From that point on, Hoffman (5-5) and the Pirate bullpen shut the door and surrendered just one hit for the rest of the game.
“I got down early, but with these guys and the way they’re hitting the ball right now, they’re on fire,” said Hoffman, “I’m never down now. If I go down 3-0 in the fourth, I know my guys are going to go out there and get another five or six.”
ECU (25-21, 9-7 C-USA) has now won its last four games and eight of nine. The source of their success can be attributed to their production at the plate. The Pirates have notched double-figure hits in each of their last five games.
McDonald, who was 1-for-2 Friday with a home run and pair of RBI and walks, said that the recipe to the Pirates recent offensive success was a slight adjustment at the plate.
“During practice, we were focused on hitting more line-drives. Before this stretch, we were hitting a bunch of pop-ups and now we’re trying to hit more line-drives and it’s been a lot more successful for us.”
Third baseman Zach Houchins led the charge at the plate with a 3-for-5 performance with two runs-scored, while left-fielder Ben Fultz was 2-for-3 with an RBI double.
Hoffman ran into trouble by surrendering two base hits and two free passes in the top of the first inning to load the bases with only one out. But as he’s done all year, he got out of the jam by striking out the next two batters. The Pirates nearly broke the ice in the bottom half on a Houchins double down the left-field line, but could not when Drew Reynolds was thrown out at the plate trying to score from first base.
Southern Miss opened scoring in the fourth inning on a sharply hit ground ball by centerfielder Dillon Day that McDonald couldn’t handle at first base. With the bases loaded, designated hitter Austin Roussel belted a sacrifice fly-out to deep right field that scored Blake Brown comfortably. Following a hit batter to load the bases again, second baseman Issac Rodriguez singled to score Chase Fowler and stretch the Golden Eagles lead to 3-0.
McDonald righted himself in the bottom half of the frame with a two-run blast to left field. Later in the half-inning, ECU took its first lead, 4-3, on a Bryan Bass sacrifice fly—scoring Jay Cannon—and Jack Reinheimer’s RBI single that brought home Dylan Brown.
ECU’s stretched its lead in the bottom of the fifth to 6-3 on Fultz’s RBI double down the right field line and Travis Watkins’s RBI fly-out that crossed Houchins and McDonald to score.
Golden Eagles reliever Jay Myrick issued three consecutive walks in the seventh inning to load the bases, prompting head coach Scott Berry to make a pitching change. With right-fielder Sean Buchholz on the mound, the Pirates were kept at bay and couldn’t capitalize for more insurance.
Hoffman’s night was finished after seven innings. The right-hander earned his fifth win of the season—despite issuing five walks and hitting two batters—striking out five and surrendering just six hits. Reynolds came on in the ninth inning to collect his twelfth save of the season.
Game two is set for 2 p.m. Saturday afternoon with redshirt-freshman David Lucroy (4-1) slated to throw against fellow right-hander Andrew Pierce (9-1).