Two sixth-inning plays – both involving East Carolina sophomore second baseman Charlie Yorgen – changed the course of Friday’s opening game of the Coral Gables Regional.
Neither play went Yorgen’s way as the Columbia Lions rallied for five runs in that frame, defeating No. 23 East Carolina 6-3 at Mark Light Stadium.
Columbia had scored once to cut its deficit to 3-2 in that pivotal sixth. With the bases loaded and one out, Columbia’s Logan Boyher hit what looked like would be an inning-ending double play to shortstop Hunter Allen.
Yorgen got the force out at second but threw wildly to first on the relay, allowing Columbia to score twice for a 4-3 lead.
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East Carolina reliever Joe Ingle, who had just entered the game for that at-bat, said he thought he had gotten his team out of the jam when he saw the ground ball to Allen.
“It was a little unusual,” Ingle said of Yorgen’s error, just his seventh of the season. “Somebody said something about the runner sliding in with his hands up trying to come at him out of the baseline. I think that’s what kind of messed (Yorgen) up.”
Yorgen had a chance to redeem himself in the bottom of the sixth when he came up with two outs and the bases loaded. He hit a hard ground ball to the right of Columbia first baseman Nick Maguire, who had already made two errors in the game.
Had the ball gone through, the Pirates likely would have scored two runs, with momentum in their favor. Instead, Maguire dove to catch the ball, and when it squirted loose, he grabbed it with his bare hand and flipped to first in time for the crucial out.
“That was the play of the game,” Columbia coach Brett Boretti said. “It says a lot about him that (after his two errors) that he made that play.”
Second-seeded East Carolina (40-21), meanwhile, did not make enough plays and will now have to battle back in the losers’ bracket of the double-elimination tournament.
Third-seeded Columbia (31-16), the Ivy League champions, won an NCAA tournament game for just the second time in school history. The Lions are 1-0 in an NCAA tournament for the first time.
Columbia grabbed a 1-0 lead on Friday’s first batter of the game. Leadoff batter Jordan Serena, performing his best Rickey Henderson imitation, lined a 3-2 pitch off the scoreboard in left.
Serena, a senior, had never previously led off a road game with a homer.
The Pirates had their one bright spot in a three-run fourth inning.
With the bases loaded and two outs, Eric Tyler hit the first pitch through the hole between third and shortstop, putting the Pirates up 2-1. An error by Maguire padded East Carolina’s lead to 3-1.
Columbia sealed its win with brilliant relief pitching from Adam Cline, who allowed just one hit and walk in 31/3 scoreless innings.
The Pirates left 11 runners on base, made two errors and had a runner picked off first base, among other issues. Their offense produced just seven hits – all singles.
“We didn’t play well,” Pirates coach Cliff Godwin said. “We wouldn’t have beaten any of the (63 other) teams.”
The Pirates will start left-hander Reid Love on Saturday against the Miami-FIU loser. Love, who served as the DH on Friday, was hit by a pitch on his left wrist in the fourth inning.
Pirates third baseman Kirk Morgan was also hit by a pitch, but Godwin said both were fine.
The coach also minimized the fact that ECU used five pitchers on Friday and now has to go through the loser’s bracket, burning through the staff if they are to make a run.
“Everybody who pitched today will be available tomorrow,” Godwin said. “We can’t worry about trying to win four games tomorrow.”