Although East Carolina trailed early in its first game of the American Athletic Conference Baseball Championships, the Pirates’ bats came alive, powering them to a 14-3 victory over No. 1 seed Central Florida, Tuesday night.
Having swept ECU (30-27, 8-17 AAC) earlier in the season, the Golden Knights (38-19, 15-10 AAC) came into the game as favorites and quickly took the lead in the first inning. UCF’s Luke Hamblin made the score 1-0 after he was driven home in by a double from his teammate Kyle Marsh. The Knights scored again in the second to take a 2-0 lead after an error in the field by the Pirates’ Dwanya Williams-Sutton. ECU’s starting pitcher, Evan Kruczynski, did not begin the game well, allowing two runs off three hits in the first two innings.
The Pirates got hot, fueled by a Charlie Yorgen three-run home run in the third inning, and scored 10 unanswered runs, until the Knights finally responded with a run in the eighth inning. Yorgen finished 2-for-4 at the plate with three RBI.
Offensively, the Pirates excelled with nearly every batter getting on base. Three ECU players (Yorgen, Travis Watkins and Turner Brown) had multiple RBI Tuesday night, while nine out of the 11 Pirates who made a plate appearance had at least one RBI. Watkins and Williams-Sutton both led the game with three hits each off of UCF’s pitching rotation.
UCF’ starting pitcher, Trent Thompson, began well but was pulled after facing fourteen batters and allowing four runs off of three hits. The Golden Knights ended up using five pitchers, with the worst stretches coming from Thad Ward and Juan Pimentel. They both combined to give up nine runs on nine hits but Thompson was given the loss.
Smooth defense and stout pitching from the bullpen helped the Pirates keep their lead. Kruczynski pitched six solid innings for ECU, giving up two runs off of eight hits and striking out three UCF batters, to pick up the win. Tyler Smith came into the game in the seventh inning and pitched two innings, giving up a run, but still maintained the Pirates’ large lead. David Kirkpatrick stepped onto the mound for the Pirates in the ninth inning, striking out two Golden Knights to end the game.
UCF had eleven hits throughout the game but it was just not enough to keep up with ECU’s fifteen hits. While The Pirates had a scoring rally that lasted from the top of the third to the end of the game, the Golden Knights only managed to score two runs up until the eighth inning.
The Pirates put the finishing touch on the game with a four-run scoring spree that was started by Eric Tyler. ECU capped the late barrage of runs with a base hit from Nick Barber, which sent Andrew Henrickson home to end the scoring at 14-3.
The Pirates now move on to their second match-up of the AAC tournament and will face No. 4 seed South Florida on Thursday at 7 p.m.