Closer Joe Ingle has been East Carolina’s go-to guy in the ninth inning, leading the American Athletic Conference with 12 saves.
But Wednesday afternoon, Ingle imploded in a tie game, walking four batters in the ninth, including two with the bases loaded, as the second-seeded Pirates stumbled to open the American Athletic Conference tournament with a 4-2 loss to seventh-seeded South Florida at Bright House Field.
“He’s our closer – who else are we going to bring in?” ECU coach Cliff Godwin asked after the loss. “The guy’s closed over 20 games (in) two years. He’s the guy we want to have the ball in his hand, and it didn’t work out for us, but it’s worked out for us a lot.”
ECU (34-20), which had lost two of three to the Bulls (24-31) in Greenville two weeks earlier, moves into the losers’ bracket, needing two straight wins to reach Saturday’s semifinals. In an elimination game at 11 a.m Thursday, the Pirates will face the loser of Wednesday’s Connecticut-Memphis game.
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ECU had rallied to tie the game at 2-2 in the seventh and had the bases loaded with one out in the eighth, coming up empty. Even in the ninth, the Pirates had the tying run on base in the bottom of the ninth, but Dwanya Williams-Sutton struck out with two runners on to end the game.
ECU, still in position for the NCAA tournament, had four runners thrown out on the base paths and came up empty in the eighth after loading the bases with one out in a tie game.
ECU tied the game on a pivotal call in the seventh. With runners at second and third and two outs, Kirk Morgan lined a shot to left field, and USF left fielder Cameron Montgomery fell down as he attempted the catch. The play was ruled not a catch, allowing the tying runs to score.
Early on, the Pirates ran themselves off the base paths, with four runners thrown out in the first six innings, none as the final out of an inning, all in a scoreless game.
“We really didn’t have many opportunities,” Godwin said. “The only time we really had a shot and didn’t score was bases loaded in the eighth inning. We should have executed better there.”
ECU starting pitcher Evan Kruczynski held USF to two hits in the first five innings and took a shutout into the seventh, but ran into trouble there. The Bulls got a double and single to lead off the inning, then brought in runs with a sacrifice fly and RBI single for a 2-0 lead.
Godwin said he’ll throw sophomore right-hander Jimmy Boyd (7-4, 2.32 ERA) in Thursday’s game.
“We have to play better,” he said. “South Florida’s fighting for their lives -- if they don’t win the tournament, they’re going home. We have some more baseball to play in front of us, so we’re getting everybody’s best shot.”