East Carolina welcomed an NCAA baseball regional on its campus for just the second time ever on Friday and the Pirates celebrated by posting crooked numbers all over the scoreboard.
ECU scored in each of the first five innings, taking the lead for good with a four-run first inning, to rout North Carolina-Wilmington 16-7 in the NCAA Greenville Regional at Clark-LeClair Stadium.
The only other time ECU played regional games at home was 2009. After waiting so long, the Pirates gave raucous, sold-out crowd of 4,700 plenty to cheer about.
"Playing in front of that type of atmosphere, I don't know how you can't get ready to play," ECU junior third baseman Connor Litton said. "That should just fire you up. The first time I ran out on the field to play defense I had chills. My hair stood up."
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The top-seeded Pirates (44-16) advance to play No. 2 seed South Carolina (34-24) at 5 p.m. on Saturday. The Gamecocks beat Ohio State 8-3 earlier Friday.
Saturday’s first game, at noon, will be an elimination game between UNCW (37-22) and Ohio State (36-23).
Bryant Packard, Jake Washer and Litton had three hits each for ECU, which pounded 17 hits off six Seahawks pitchers. Litton drove in four runs. UNCW aided ECU by committing three errors.
"We didn't slow them down all night," UNCW coach Mark Scalf said. "They swung it well. They played well defensively and unfortunately we didn't play well defensively."
ECU jumped all over UNCW starting pitcher Alex Royalty early, scoring five runs over the first two innings when the junior right-hander needed 58 pitches to record six outs.
Packard started the Pirates’ four-run first inning with an infield single. One out later, Royalty hit Spencer Brickhouse with a 3-2 pitch. Washer’s single up the middle drove in Packard with the game’s first run.
A Drew Henrickson RBI groundout pushed ECU’s lead to 2-0. On the next pitch, Litton smacked a two-run home run to right field giving the Pirates a 4-0 lead.
"When Lit hit that home run, the place was rocking," ECU coach Cliff Godwin said. "It was awesome."
The Seahawks scratched out a run in the second when Kep Brown singled, moved to second on a groundout, advanced to third on a flyout and scored on a wild pitch.
ECU got the run back in its second when Turner Brown doubled, Packard singled and Dwanya Williams-Sutton drove him in with groundout for a 5-1 Pirates lead.
The Seahawks' best chance to knock Chris Holba out came in the third inning when they loaded the bases with no outs. Ryan Jeffers lined a two-run single to right field, cutting ECU’s lead to 5-3 and leaving runners at first and second.
With Mason Berne at the plate, Greg Jones moved to third on a wild pitch giving the Seahawks runners at the corners with no outs.
But Berne struck out and, adding insult to injury, the Pirates were awarded the second out of the inning when the umpires ruled Berne interfered with Washer, ECU's catcher, as he attempted to throw out Jeffers at second base on a stolen base attempt.
"That kinda axed that momentum pretty quick," Scalf said.
Holba retired Brown on a groundout to end the UNCW rally.
The Pirates broke the game open and knocked Royalty from the game in the bottom of the third when they loaded the bases with no outs.
Austin Easter replaced Royalty but all three Pirates runners scored (on a wild pitch and two sacrifice fly balls) to give ECU an 8-3 lead.
ECU added two more runs in the fourth to lead 10-3 and the rout was on.