For the second time in four years, East Carolina University baseball has won the American Athletic Conference tournament championship after defeating the University of Connecticut 4-3 on Saturday in Clearwater, Florida.
ECU (43-16) will head into the NCAA Tournament next week as a regional host and will get at least one more game at Clark-LeClair Stadium. After losing in the championship game last season, this win seemed to carry a bit of redemption in it.
“It started right after last year,” Spencer Brickhouse said in an interview with the American Digital Network after the game Saturday. “I mean we had a chip on our shoulder right when we stepped foot back into greenville. It’s good to come back here and get a win and beat a team like UConn today.”
It’s the 25th conference championship in program history, and ECU’s second since joining the AAC. Since head coach Cliff Godwin took over in 2015, ECU has made the championship game three times, won it in 2015.
“This program was good long before I got here,” Godwin said to the ADN. “East Carolina has got a lot of great history and tradition and I’m just happy for Pirate Nation.”
ECU was led by four players named to the AAC All-Tournament Team this week; Spencer Brickhouse, Andrew Henrickson, Turner Brown and Jake Kuchmaner.
Brickhouse went 10-for-20 during the week and took home the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player award. Henrickson went 6-for-14 during the tournament and drove in six runs while drawing five walks. Brown went 4-for-10 in the tournament while driving in three runs. Jake Kuchmaner had the pitching performance of the season, throwing seven innings and allowing just one run during Friday’s elimination game in ECU’s 12-1 win over Houston.
On Saturday, it was the All-Tournament team guys who led the way for the Pirates on offense. Brickhouse and Henrickson each contributed RBI singles along with Jake Washer hitting a third during a three-run fifth inning for ECU. Brown capped off the scoring with a sacrifice fly in the sixth inning. The fifth inning proved to be the key for ECU finally breaking through to the UConn bullpen after UConn’s starter had only allowed one run in 4.1 innings before ECU scored three more off of the bullpen.
ECU got four scoreless innings out of starter Jake Agnos, including a key third inning where Agnos struck out the side with the bases loaded. Relief appearances from Ryan Ross and Trey Benton bridged the gap for Davis Kirkpatrick, who pitched the final two innings scoreless to get the save. Kirkpatrick, a fifth-year senior who overcame Tommy John surgery during his ECU career, seemed a fitting choice to end the championship game for the Pirates.
The win ended a tough week that saw the Pirates play five games in five days and have to use every bit of what they could muster through injuries and fatigue to win. Head coach Cliff Godwin said this is a trait what ECU can use to continue on in postseason baseball.
“A lot of toughness,” Godwin said to the ADN. “We faced a lot of adversity this year with some injuries and some sickness and they’ve answered the bell every time. We like to call ourselves blue-collar and the guys did a great job.”
Brickhouse acknowledged after the game there is a lot of excitement amongst Pirate fans now that ECU has cemented its case for a host spot in next week’s regional games. Brickhouse also praised ECU’s fans, saying that it has the best fans in the country. Godwin took the excitement that Brickhouse referred to and certainly gave it a jolt with his words as he walked off the field from his postgame interview.