What started as a pitchers’ duel quickly turned into a rout.
East Carolina blew open the second game of the Charlottesville Regional in the NCAA baseball tournament with a seven-run rally in the eighth inning, sending 10 batters to the plate, to cruise past second-seeded Bryant 9-1 Friday night.
The victory for the third-seeded Pirates (35-21-1) sets up an interesting winners’ bracket game at 4 p.m. Saturday with top-seeded Virginia (38-20), a 17-4 winner over outmanned William & Mary earlier Friday. ECU took two of three from the reigning NCAA champions back in February here at Davenport Field.
“It’s a long time ago,” ECU coach Cliff Godwin said of the early-season series with UVa. “Virginia’s a much different team. They played much better than they were early in the year.”
Godwin is just happy his team rebounded from a disappointing performance in last week’s American Athletic Conference tournament. But he had confidence that his ace, junior left-hander Evan Kruczynski, could turn things around.
“We’ve been talking about it all week, since we went 0-2 in the conference tournament, about playing with passion,” Godwin said, adding that he mentioned it again to his players at a team meeting Thursday night.
The Pirates were going up against the nation’s winningest pitcher, sophomore right-hander James Karinchak, and Godwin knew they needed a big effort from Kruczynski, who struck out six, walked three and scattered six hits over seven innings.
“Their guy was unbelievable on the mound, and he was tough,” Godwin said. “We were lucky to have Evan Kruczynski. Kruz matched him pitch for pitch.” He added, “(Kruczynski) has pitched in a lot of 0-0 games, 1-0 games, 2-1 games where every pitch is on the line. It takes a special player.”
Charlie Yorgen and Travis Watkins had three hits apiece for ECU, and Garrett Brooks contributed a pair of RBI doubles.
Kruczynski (7-1) and Karinchak (12-3) matched shutout efforts through six innings before the Pirates scratched out a run in the seventh. Watkins drew a leadoff walk, and one out later Eric Tyler sent him to third with a line single to right center.
Bryant coach Steve Owens replaced Karinchak with his lefty closer, Justin Snyder, but the lefty-swinging Bryce Harman lined a sacrifice fly to center for the game’s first run.
“Coach Godwin told me beforehand to look for the ball middle away and think about hitting it to left center,” Harman said. “I didn’t try to do too much, just tried to hit a fly ball.”
Owens said he wouldn’t second-guess his decision to pull his ace.
“It wasn’t a difficult decision,” he said. “I thought James was starting to tire the third or fourth time through the lineup, and since he is a high-effort pitcher, there is a lot of movement in his delivery, and when he gets tired he gets the ball up.”
That was the only run the Pirates managed off Karinchak, who struck out eight, walked four and allowed three hits in 6 1/3 innings. But ECU shredded the Bulldogs bullpen in the eighth, bunching six hits and two walks for seven runs.
Yorgen started things with a single to center and took second on an infield out, allowing him to score on Turner Brown’s single. Watkins followed with a single to right, and Brooks doubled into the right-field corner to drive in a run.
Tyler was walked intentionally to load the bases, but reliever Logan Lessard walked Harman to force in a run and wild pitched home another to make it 5-0. Pinch hitter Kirk Morgan then slapped a two-run single through a drawn-in infield. Yorgen made it 8-0 with a double off the right-field wall but was thrown out to end the inning trying to stretch the hit into a triple.
Brooks got his second RBI double in the ninth, and Bryant managed a run in the ninth without a hit, taking advantage of two walks by reliever Davis Kirkpatrick and two infield outs.
“I’m disappointed with the final score because I don’t think it told the story of the game,” Owens said, “but it doesn’t matter because a loss is a loss.”
Bryant (47-11) will play William & Mary (29-30) in an elimination game at 11 a.m. Saturday. The start times for both games were moved up by two hours because of the threat of more inclement weather. Friday’s nightcap, which was moved up two hours from its original 6 p.m. start because of the threat of rain, got underway at almost its original scheduled time when a pregame rainstorm delayed the first pitch by one hour, 50 minutes.
East Carolina (35-21-1), which won on the opening day of regional play for the first time since 2009, will play top-seeded Virginia at 4 p.m. Saturday in the winners’ bracket of the Charlottesville Regional. The Cavaliers (38-20) hammered fourth-seeded William & Mary 17-4 in Friday’s first game. UVa will go with All-American junior right-hander Connor Jones (11-1, 2.29) against ECU, who will counter with senior right-hander Jimmy Boyd (7-5, 2.65).
ECU and UVa met in a series back in February, with the Pirates taking two of three from the host Cavaliers.
Bryant (47-11) will play William & Mary (29-30) in an elimination game at 11 a.m. Saturday. Junior right-hander Nick Brown (4-7, 5.76 ERA) will start for W&M against junior right-hander Brandon Bingel (9-3, 3.52), who played right field Friday for Bryant.