Baseball

East Carolina University came up short in its bid to earn an automatic spot in the NCAA Baseball Tournament, falling 6-0 to Houston in the American Athletic Conference Championship Game Sunday in Clearwater, Florida.

Tournament Most Outstanding Player Jake Scheiner led the way for Houston (40-19, 19-9 AAC) in Sunday’s game. The junior third baseman went 4-for-5 on the day with a home run and two runs scored. Lael Lockhart did his part, going 1-for-2 with a game-high two RBI, while Jared Triolo chipped in with three hits, including a double and a triple.

ECU (32-28, 10-18 AAC), on the other hand, didn’t fare as well at the plate, registering only eight hits, compared to Houston’s 14. Senior Eric Tyler was the only Pirate to record multiple hits, with two, while junior Luke Bolka’s seventh inning double was the only extra-base hit for ECU in the game. Seniors Travis Watkins and Charlie Yorgen, who had been carrying the Pirates offensively earlier in the tournament, both went hitless.

The Cougars struck first blood in the top of the third, taking a 1-0 lead. With a full count and a man on first and third, center fielder Corey Julks struck a double down the left field line, scoring Connor Hollis.

Although ECU starting pitcher Evan Kruczynski struggled a bit in the game, giving up up two runs off of seven hits, he did bail the Pirates out of a couple of jams. First, in the second inning with the bases loaded, the senior was able to get the final out without giving up a run. Then after already giving up a run in the third, Kruczynski got the final two outs to end the inning while there were still men on third and first base. In four innings of work, Kruczynski struckout five Cougars, but still picked up the loss.

After Kruczynski was pulled from the game, ECU used six pitchers (West Covington, Chris Holba, Sam Lanier, Matt Bridges, Ryan Ross and Davis Kirkpatrick) in relief, with none lasting longer than Bridges’ 1 2/3 innings. All but Ross and Kirkpatrick gave up a run while on the mound. In five innings, the relief pitchers let up a combined four runs on seven hits, while striking out two Houston batters and walking two.

Houston’s pitchers on the other hand, had a much easier day at the office. Starter John King threw shutout 6 2/3 innings and allowed seven hits. King forced ECU’s batters to hit 14 ground balls for easy outs. Joey Pulido pitched the final 2 1/3 innings of the game, allowing no runs and one hit.

Pulling Kruczynski after the fourth inning didn’t improve things for the Pirates. Already up 2-0, the Cougars scored a run per inning from the fifth through the eighth inning. The highlight of the scoring was Scheiner’s fifth inning solo home run off of Covington.

Sunday’s loss ended the Pirates’ remarkable run in AAC Baseball Championship as the No. 8 seed. As the lowest seeded team, ECU defeated top-seeded Central Florida twice and USF once before falling to Houston in the championship game. After a regular season that was below expectations, the Pirates hoped to win the AAC tournament to automatically qualify for the NCAA Baseball Tournament as the AAC champion.With its loss in the title game, ECU’s season is most likely over, as its record isn’t quite impressive enough to receive an at-large bid.

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