East Carolina closed the regular season playing its best baseball, but has been unable to sustain its success in the Conference USA Tournament thus far.
Despite having the advantage early against the Houston Cougars and the Tulane Green Wave to begin the tournament, ECU squandered both leads and couldn't recover, subsequently ending any hopes of a C-USA championship berth Sunday.
That’s not to say they didn’t have their chances.
Trailing 5-2 in the seventh inning, the Pirates began to rally by crossing a pair of runs and loading the bases for outfielder Ben Fultz with just one out. Fultz did his part – lining out to left-field – but the potential tying run, Drew Reynolds, was called out for leaving third base early, attempting to tag and score.
Fultz was granted another chance in the top of the ninth with runners on the corners and trailing by a run. He couldn't capitalize on the opportunity, flying out to seal a 6-5 Green Wave win.
ECU needed a strong showing in the tournament in order for them to be considered for a regional. That did not happen, which means Saturday night’s pod-play finale will likely be the last time this group takes the field in 2013.
“It’s unfortunate. I told the team after the game, this time of year, if you’re fortunate to get into a tournament like this and you’re playing well at the end of the year. I just prayed that they played well and we haven’t played well in two days,” said head coach Billy Godwin.
The Pirates were victims to defensive miscues and frequently hit-batters on Friday. Each of Tulane’s first three runs of the game – five of their six – were assisted by either an ECU error or HBP.
Godwin said, “There were some things that transpired that we could have controlled. Some of those we didn’t really do a very good job of that.”
Andrew Garner was the first to be hit by a pitch in the second inning and was awarded both second and third base on a pair of wild pitches from starter David Lucroy. Second baseman Bowen Woodson’s single up the middle plated Garner to give Tulane a 1-0 lead.
ECU responded with a pair of runs in the top of the third on Zach Houchins RBI fielder’s choice and Fultz’ RBI single – scoring Houchins – to take the lead, 2-1.
` It was short-lived though as Lucroy didn’t make it through the bottom of the frame. Triggered by an ECU throwing error, Tulane tied the game and later went in front 3-2 through three innings.
The Green Wave added runs in both the fourth and fifth innings to extend their advantage to 5-2, before the Pirates came alive in the seventh.
Catcher Luke Lowey led off the frame with a triple and later scored on Chris Gosik’s double down the left-field line. Houchins followed suit with an RBI single to trim the Tulane lead to 5-4, before the controversial inning-ending double play.
A throwing error in right field Jay Cannon allowed the Green Wave to gain an insurance marker in the bottom of the eighth. Down to their set of outs, the Pirates didn’t go away quietly.
With two outs, Houchins earned his third RBI of the afternoon on a single that scored Bass. But it was too little, too late for ECU as Fultz popped up to second base to end the game, stranding two on the base paths.
In Thursday’s opener against Houston, ECU appeared poised to continue where they left off in the regular season by jumping out to an impressive 3-0 lead in the first inning. Similar to Friday, it quickly dissolved in the top of the third when the Cougar’s bats came alive for four runs.
Behind first baseman Justin Montemayor’s 4-for-4, two-RBI outing and right-hander Austin Pruitt’s complete game on the mound, Houston coasted to a 9-4 win.
Saturday night’s game against Southern Miss will begin at 7 p.m.