The red-hot East Carolina baseball team continued its late season surge, defeating Conference USA-leading Southern Mississippi 6-3 Friday night at Clark-LeClair stadium.
“Our guys have enough confidence to know that these guys (Southern Miss) aren’t going to take two games in a row from us,” said ECU pitcher Jeff Hoffman. “Getting this win for us pretty much solidifies a series win for us.”
Hoffman (5-5) got the start for the Pirates and got into early trouble, loading the bases on one hit and two walks with only one out in the first inning, before striking out the next two batters to get out of the jam.
The Pirates were in another bad position again in the third inning when the Eagles had two on with one out, but Hoffman induced Mason Robbins to hit into a double play.
Hoffman wouldn’t be so fortunate in the third inning when the Eagles opened the scoring. Hoffman hit Bradley Roney and walked Blake Brown before recording the first out of the inning on a Tim Lynch sacrifice bunt, advancing Roney and Brown to third and second.
Hoffman then walked Chase Fowler to load the bases before surrendering an RBI single to Dillon Day.
The scoring continued with the next batter when Austin Roussel hit an RBI sacrifice fly to score Brown and advance the other runners.
With two outs Hoffman hit Travis Creel to load the basses before surrendering an RBI single to Isaac Rodriguez, extending the USM lead to 3-0 before escaping the top half of the inning.
With two close calls early and a three-run fourth, the game was beginning to look bleak for ECU, but the bats came to life and answered the Eagles’ scores.
Zach Houchins hit a hard ground ball through the left side of the infield to lead off the bottom of the fourth with a single, and then Chase McDonald hammered 0-1 changeup over the left field wall, near the foul pole to put the Pirates on the board and cut the lead to one.
“I just love being in the situations, given the opportunity to give a blow and put some runs up for us,” said McDonald.
Two batters later Jay Cannon reached first on a perfectly-placed, one-out bunt that caught the defense off-guard. Cannon was advanced to third when Dylan Brown doubled down the right field line.
Bryan Bass scored Cannon on a sacrifice fly to even the score at three, and Brown advanced to third on a steal.
Brown scored the go-ahead tally and final run of the inning on Jack Reinheimer’s come-back shot that the Southern Miss pitcher wasn’t able to field cleanly, giving ECU its first lead at 4-3.
After struggling early, Hoffman settled in after the Pirate offense got him a lead and pitched three more scoreless innings before ECU turned to its bullpen.
“I was really impressed after the three runs with how he settled down,” said ECU head coach Billy Godwin, “and we scored the four and he kept the momentum on our side.”
The Pirates, however, were not done scoring.
Houchins again led off the fifth inning with a hit, this time doubling down the left field line.
USM responded by bringing in Jay Myrick to pitch. He walked McDonald before giving up and RBI double to Ben Futlz, scoring Houchins and stretching the ECU lead to two.
The Pirated tacked on its sixth and final run of the night three batters later when Travis Watkins scored McDonald on a sacrifice fly to center.
Brett Mabry and Drew Reynolds closed out the last two innings after Hoffman carried ECU into the eighth inning on an inconsistent but effective performance.
The bullpen pitchers didn’t allow a single hit or a run, with two walks in the final two frames.
With the win, ECU improves to 25-21 (9-7 Conference USA) on the season, and drops Southern Miss to 24-20 (13-6 C-USA).
This win was the fourth in a row for the Pirates and eighth in their last nine games.
The two teams play game two of the series Saturday at 2 p.m.