Not even Mother Nature could deny East Carolina’s first super-regional appearance in the NCAA baseball tournament in seven years.
Charlie Yorgen, Travis Watkins and Eric Tyler blasted two-run homers Sunday, and freshman Sam Lanier provided airtight relief, leading the third-seeded Pirates to an 8-4 victory over fourth-seeded William & Mary in the Charlottesville Regional at Davenport Field.
Watkins, who hit a three-run, ninth-inning home run to beat Virginia 8-6 on Saturday night, was named the tournament MVP. He was joined on the all-tournament team by teammates Tyler, Yorgen, outfielder Garrett Brooks and pitcher Evan Kruczynski, who beat second-seeded Bryant in ECU’s tournament opener.
Tyler had four of the 14 hits Sunday for ECU, which had to withstand a 58-minute rain delay in the eighth inning. Yorgen had two hits, giving the second baseman a regional-best nine for the weekend.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Yorgen, who entered the regional hitting only .248 but went 9-for-15, including his first homer of the season. “It’s been a long season. You have to forget about your struggles and stick with the process. ... I worked with our coaching staff a lot the last couple of weeks. A few of my hits were lucky, so maybe I did something good for someone along the way.”
It’s the fourth super-regional trip all-time but the first accomplished via a road regional for ECU (37-21-1), which went 3-0 here. The Pirates will play next weekend against the winner of the Lubbock Regional at a site to be determined.
ECU had staggered into the NCAA field with an at-large berth despite losing five of its last nine games, including both outings in the American Athletic Conference tournament. But the Pirates hit their stride in the regional.
“This season hasn’t been easy for us,” said ECU coach Cliff Godwin, who was the catcher on the Pirates’ first super-regional team in 2001. “There’s been a lot of ups and downs. … But East Carolina is a baseball school, and we wanted to get it back on the map.”
After William and Mary (31-31) tied the score at 4-4 in the top of the fifth, Lanier, ECU’s third pitcher of the day, replaced Chris Holba and escaped a bases-loaded jam.
The Pirates came right back in their half of the fifth to take the lead for good off side-arming right-hander Charlie Fletcher, the second of four W&M pitchers. Yorgen reached on shortstop Kyle Wrighte’s third throwing error of the day, and with two outs Watkins homered to left for his fifth of the season and second of the regional.
“I wasn’t going for a home run again,” Watkins said. “He beat me in, and Coach Godwin stresses don’t get beat twice. He threw me a fastball in again, and I got the barrel on it.”
ECU wasn’t done against Fletcher. After Garrett Brooks singled, Tyler drilled his fifth homer of the season to left to make it 8-4.
“He hung a slider, and I put a good swing on it,” Tyler said.
The win went to Lanier (2-1), who struck out seven in five innings, allowing one hit and one walk.
“Sam gave us a huge boost today,” said Godwin, who had his closer Joe Ingle warming up in the eighth and ninth just in case. Godwin said he didn’t hesitate to send Lanier back out for the eighth inning despite the rain delay. Lanier didn’t need any help, retiring all six of his batters in the eighth and ninth.
Fletcher (3-3) took the loss for W&M, which had won six consecutive elimination games over the past two weekends, four in the Colonial Athletic Association tournament and two here in the regional, before falling to the Pirates.
William & Mary had advanced to the championship game with a 5-4 win that eliminated top-seeded Virginia (38-22) in Sunday’s first game. Charles Ameer broke a 4-4 tie in the seventh with a solo home run, his eighth of the year, off UVa reliever Tommy Doyle (2-6). Doyle had also given up the walk-off homer by Watkins.
The Tribe, which had scored in each of its regional games, maintained that trend against ECU starter Jacob Wolfe. In the third Zach Pearson led off with a bunt single, and Ryan Hall singled to left. After a sacrifice bunt, Cullen Large hit a sacrifice fly to right, and Charley Gould doubled to left center to make it 2-0.
W&M’s Dan Powers, the starter and loser in a 17-4 loss to Virginia on Friday, cruised through the first two innings but ran out of gas in the third, yielding singles to Tyler and Bryce Harman. Parker Lamm doubled into the left-field corner to make it 2-2, and Yorgen followed with his two-run homer to right.
Wolfe departed after giving up a leadoff single in the fourth to Josh Smith, who eventually scored on a perfect squeeze bunt by Pearson to cut the ECU lead to 4-3. The Tribe nicked Holba for a run in the fifth on consecutive singles by Ryder Miconi, Large, and Gould to tie it, before Lanier got the call.
C Travis Watkins, East Carolina (MVP)
1b Pavin Smith, Virginia
2b Charlie Yorgen, East Carolina
ss Daniel Pinero, Virginia
3b Eric Tyler, East Carolina
OF Garrett Brooks, East Carolina
OF Adam Haseley, Virginia
OF Ryan Hall, William & Mary
DH Ryder Miconi, William & Mary
P Evan Kruczynski, East Carolina
P Nick Brown, William & Mary