ECU drops NCAA baseball opener to St. John’s

CorrespondentJune 2, 2012 

— Three months ago, St. John’s junior right-hander Kyle Hansen might have been ready to sue his teammates for non-support. That wasn’t the case Friday.

Left fielder Jeremy Baltz paced a 16-hit attack with a home run and a double, and Hansen pitched into the eighth inning to lead St. John’s to an 11-3 win over East Carolina at Boshamer Stadium in the opening game of the NCAA baseball regional.

St. John’s (38-21) will play North Carolina at 6 p.m. Saturday. ECU (35-23-1) will get Cornell at 1 p.m. Kevin Brandt (7-6, 1.85 ERA) will start for the Pirates.

“This is a double-elimination deal,” said East Carolina coach Billy Godwin, whose Pirates lost to St. John’s in the NCAA regional opener last year at Charlottesville, Va., but came back to eliminate the Red Storm later in the bracket. “We’re still in it. But we have to get our guys to believe they’re still in it.”

The 6-foot-8 Hansen, who struck out eight and yielded three runs and eight hits in 71/3 innings, held the Pirates in check for most of the day.

“I wanted to make up for the past two years,” said Hansen, who ranked third in the Big East in strikeouts and is second all-time in St. John’s history. “I had pitched three games in regionals and was 0-3, so I wanted to get that one out of the way.”

Hansen also struggled early this year. The preseason All-America selection began the season as St. John’s No. 1 starter but was victimized by a lack of runs – an average of 1.6 over five games – and had an 0-4 record and a 4.57 ERA in March. Red Storm coach Ed Blankmeyer moved him to the Sunday (No. 3) starter role on March 18, and Hansen responded with his first victory of the season. Since dropping in the rotation, Hansen has won five of his six decisions and lowered his ERA to 3.48.

“I just worked with my pitching coach, who told me to take it one pitch at a time,” Hansen said. “Relax and have fun.”

Hansen held the Pirates scoreless until the seventh, when they bunched singles by Corey Thompson, Chase McDonald and Bryan Bass for a run to make it 6-1. They chased Hansen in the eighth after a single by Tim Younger and a double by Drew Reynolds, before Thompson greeted reliever Stephen Rivera with a two-run single.

Baltz got St. John’s small-ball offense rolling early when he jumped on the first pitch from ECU freshman right-hander Jeff Hoffman (3-2) in the second inning and lined it off the 370-foot mark at the top of the left-center field wall. He came around to score the first run of the game on two groundouts.

The Red Storm manufactured another run in the third the same way. Bret Dennis lined the first pitch of the inning for a double off the glove of Bass in centerfield, moved up on a sacrifice bunt, and then came home on a groundout.

Then St. John’s broke it open in the fifth. Dennis and Kyle Richardson opened the inning with singles, and after a sacrifice bunt, Hoffman was relieved by Andy Smithmyer.

But Matt Wessinger, who had three hits, blooped an RBI single down the right-field line, and Frank Schwindel followed with a hit-and-run single that scored another run. When left fielder John Wooten’s throw to third got away, Wessinger scored all the way from first on the play to make it 5-0.

“When they went up 5-0 … it was definitely a punch in the mouth,” ECU’s Thompson said.

“I think early in the game, the doubles they had, he elevated pitches,” Godwin said of Hoffman. “They did a great job of moving runners and manufacturing runs.”

Baltz hit a solo home run, his eighth of the year, in the seventh, and the Red Storm added five more in the late innings against the Pirates’ bullpen.

“Everything fell our way today,” Blankmeyer said. “We swung the bats very well and got off to a great start.”

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