Three South Carolina pitchers, with sophomore Cody Morris leading the way, shut down East Carolina Saturday night and the Gamecocks took control of the NCAA tournament’s Greenville Regional.
Morris allowed just five hits while pitching into the eighth inning and relievers Ridge Chapman and Sawyer Bridges recorded the final five outs as the second-seeded Gamecocks beat top seed ECU 4-2 at Clark-LeClair Stadium.
"The difference was Morris," ECU coach Cliff Godwin said. "He was really good. He kept us off balance."
South Carolina (35-24) will play for the regional championship Sunday night at 6 p.m against either ECU or North Carolina-Wilmington.
East Carolina (44-17), the No. 12 national seed in the tournament, will play North Carolina-Wilmington at 2 p.m. Sunday in an elimination game. The winner of that game advances to the 6 p.m. game where it must beat South Carolina to force a decisive, winner-take-all game between the two teams on Monday at 4 p.m.
Fourth-seeded UNC-Wilmington (37-22) stayed alive with a 13-inning, 4-3 win over third-seeded Ohio State in an elimination game earlier Saturday.
Morris pitched a career-long 7 ⅓ innings for the Gamecocks, allowing two runs while striking out seven. His catcher, Hunter Taylor, helped him by throwing out three Pirates as they attempted to steal.
Morris relied on a changeup to shut down the Pirates.
"I was able to establish that pitch early and bury it later in the count," Morris said. "I felt like I had pretty decent fastball command. And the defense played great behind me."
Chapman took over with one out in the eighth inning with a runner on first base and his team clinging to a 3-2 lead. He struck out Bryant Packard, who collected three of ECU’s hits, on four pitches before getting Dwanya Williams-Sutton on a pop out.
The Gamecocks added an insurance run in their eighth Jacob Olson’s two-out RBI double.
That loomed big when Chapman issued a lead-off walk to Spencer Brickhouse in the ninth inning. But Bridges replaced him and closed out the win, getting Jake Washer on a pop out, Drew Henrickson on a fielder's choice grounder and pinch-hitter Bryson Worrell on a strikeout.
South Carolina jumped ahead with three runs in the first inning off ECU freshman pitcher Alec Burleson.
After Danny Blair’s lead-off infield single and a Madison Stokes’ one-out walk, Jonah Bride ripped a double into the left-field corner driving in both runners for a 2-0 lead.
LT Tolbert made it 3-0 with a two-out, RBI single to left field.
ECU finally solved Morris in the fourth inning when Packard and Williams-Sutton singled to put runners at first and third with no outs.
Brickhouse drove in Packard with a deep fly ball to centerfield, cutting the Gamecocks lead to 3-1.
When Washer drew a walk, the Pirates had two runners on with one out and a chance to get closer. But Williams-Sutton was thrown out stealing third base and Henrickson grounded out to shortstop to end the threat.
Packard used his legs to cut South Carolina’s lead to one run in the sixth. He grounded a lead-off single and, one out later, was running on a 3-2 pitch to Brickhouse. The pitch was in the dirt, giving Brickhouse a walk, but Packard kept running and took third.
With Washer at the plate, Brickhouse attempted to steal second and was thrown out by Taylor. But Packard scored when the throw went to second leaving the Gamecocks with a 3-2 lead.
But ECU was never able to catch the Gamecocks.
Now the Pirates must win three games over Sunday and Monday to win the regional on their home field. The quest starts with UNCW.