TAMPA – Entering Saturday’s regular-season finale, No. 15 East Carolina’s mission was clear. Complete the sweep of USF to secure the program’s fourth-straight American Athletic Conference regular season title. The Pirates left little to chance, downing the Bulls 7-1 at the USF Baseball Stadium.
A loss would have given the chance for Houston to snatch the crown away, but ECU rendered the Cougars’ Saturday afternoon contest with Cincinnati irrelevant to the situation.
The Pirates ended up winning their final 10 league games, sweeping Cincinnati, Memphis and South Florida as well as winning its series with Tulane to vault past Houston and Wichita State to the top of the conference once more.
East Carolina has secured the No. 1 seed for the upcoming AAC Baseball Championship, slated for May 23-28 at BayCare Ballpark in Clearwater, Fla. The Pirates will take on the No. 8 seed in Tuesday’s second game at approximately 1 p.m. The full tournament bracket will be revealed later Saturday evening.
Garrett Saylor (2-0) made his final career regular-season appearance a memorable one, earning the win after tossing five scoreless innings and scattering three hits with two strikeouts and no walks. Ethan Brown (1-5) took the loss, yielding four runs on four hits with three walks and three strikeouts.
Josh Moylan capped off a fine weekend with a 2-for-5 performance, adding four RBI and a run scored. Justin Wilcoxen also chipped in with two hits and drew a pair of walks. Ben Rozenblum provided two of the Bulls’ five hits.
After both starting pitchers put up zeros in the first two innings, East Carolina was the first on the scoreboard in the top of the third. Lane Hoover got things going with a one-out single before Jacob Starling drew a walk. A fielder’s choice moved Hoover to third and Carter Cunningham proceeded to steal second to give the Pirates a pair in scoring position. Moylan then worked a 2-2 count and lasered a ground-rule double into the right-center gap to make it 2-0. Drew Brutcher would answer in the home half of the frame with a solo home run to right that sliced USF’s deficit to one.
South Florida threatened in the bottom of the fourth when Marcus Brodil drew a one-out walk and Jackson Mayo singled through the right side. Trey Yesavage would induce a grounder up that middle that was snagged by Starling for the inning-ending force out.
ECU threatened to pull away in the top of the fifth when Joey Berini and Hoover walked and Starling was hit by a pitch to load the bases with no outs. The Pirates mustered up two runs out of the situation without the benefit of a base hit, receiving a sac fly off the bat of Cunningham and a Moylan RBI groundout to assume a 4-1 advantage. Saylor entered the game at that point and turned in an important shutdown frame to preserve the three-run cushion.
The Purple and Gold kept adding to the lead in the sixth. Luke Nowak reached on a fielder’s choice and moved to third on a sharp single through the right side by Alec Makarewicz. Berini then grounded out to second, allowing Nowak to easily cross home plate and push East Carolina ahead 5-1.
Starling sparked another offensive outburst in the top of the seventh with a double down the left field line, advanced to third on a passed ball and scored on a Cunningham single up the middle. Cunningham was tagged out trying to take second on the play, but Moylan drilled an 0-1 offering over the wall in right-center to extend the Pirate upper hand to 7-1.
Saylor finished out the game with aplomb, allowing just two singles in the final two frames.
- East Carolina finished the regular season with a 12-9 record in true road games, winning their final seven.
- The ECU bullpen was excellent in the series, allowing just two earned runs over 19 innings.
- The Pirates were a perfect 4-for-4 with a runner at third and less than two outs.
- Moylan turned in his team-leading 17th multi-RBI effort of the campaign.
- ECU enters the conference tournament having won 12 of its last 15 games.