East Carolina’s unlikely run to the final of the American Athletic Conference tournament ended Sunday with a 6-0 loss to Houston in the championship game at Spectrum Field.
The Pirates (32-28), who finished last in the conference in the regular season, had surprised with three straight wins against teams that swept them during the season to reach Sunday’s title game. The magic ended there, however, as second-seeded Houston (40-19) pounded out 14 hits off seven Pirates pitchers to secure an automatic berth in NCAA regionals.
“The guys wanted it so bad and played so hard, but Houston was better than us today,” Pirates coach Cliff Godwin said. “These seniors have left the program in great shape, won a conference championship, a regional championship and are outstanding ambassadors for our university. It’s been a hard year, and these guys aren’t happy with how it ended, but they played their butts off to the end.”
ECU starter Evan Kruczynski (4-3) got himself out of jams early in the game. He picked off a runner at first base to end the first inning, snared a line-drive comebacker with the bases loaded to end the second, then got two strikeouts with runners at second and third to get out of the third inning down just 1-0.
Houston kept adding runs, however, one each from the fourth to the eighth innings, including a home run and double from Jake Scheiner, the AAC’s Player of the Year, who went 4-for-5 and was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. Senior left-hander John King (7-1) threw 6 2/3 innings of shutout baseball for the win for Houston.
ECU had three players named to the All-Tournament Team in catcher Travis Watkins, second baseman Charlie Yorgen and pitcher Jake Agnos, who got the win in Saturday’s semifinal.
“Awesome run. Tough ending, but best group of guys I’ve ever been around,” said third baseman Eric Tyler, one of nine seniors who played their final college game. “It’s very disappointing. You never want it to end, but it has to come to an end sometime. There’s nobody I’d rather go out with.”
The Pirates couldn’t make anything of their opportunities Sunday, stranding two in the second, fourth and sixth innings. Down 5-0, the Pirates had the bases loaded in the seventh, only to have Watkins swing at the first pitch and pop out to first to end the inning.
The Pirates were a preseason favorite to win the American, but were limited by injuries and finished just 7-17 in conference play. They beat top-seeded Central Florida twice and fourth-seeded South Florida to reach Sunday’s championship game. Houston has played in the AAC title game all four years it has been played, and Sunday was the Cougars’ first championship since 2014.