A walk-off suicide squeeze bunt gave East Carolina University its second consecutive win at the American Athletic Conference Baseball Championship Thursday night, as the Pirates defeated the University of South Florida 6-5.
As the No. 8 seed, Pirates’ (31-27, 9-17 AAC) second victory in the AAC tournament sends them to the semifinals, while the No. 4 seed Bulls (41-16, 15-11 AAC) will next face off against the University of Central Florida in an elimination game.
ECU’s ninth inning rally began with an infield single from Andrew Henrickson, who was then brought home by a Charlie Yorgen double. An RBI sacrifice fly by Travis Watkins tied the game at 5-5, setting the stage for Morgan to be the hero. Pinch hitting for Spencer Brickhouse, Morgan laid down a bunt, scoring Yorgen for the winning run.
Yorgen, who finished 3-for-5 at the plate with three runs and one RBI, led the Pirates in hits and runs scored. Watkins’ two RBI of the night were the most of any ECU batter, even though the senior catcher went 0-for-3. The Bulls were led offensively by shortstop Kevin Merrell and left fielder Chris Chatfield. Merrell hit 2-for-4 and scored two runs, while Chatfield went 1-for-3, including a solo home run in the fourth inning.
The Bulls struck first in the opening inning, when a Luke Borders ground-out scored Merrell. Merrell was in position to score, thanks to both a Yorgen fielding error and a wild pitch from ECU starting pitcher Trey Benton. However, Yorgen made up for his error by scoring in the bottom of the first to tie the game. Yorgen first singled and then stole second base, before reaching third on throwing error from USF catcher Andres Leal. Yorgen finally made his way home, thanks to wild pitch from the Bulls’ starting pitcher, Shane McClanahan.
USF took control of the game in the sixth inning, scoring three runs to go ahead 5-3. The Bulls recorded four hits in the inning, including a Duke Stunkel double that scored Chatfield. The scoring rally was capped by a two-RBI single from Borders, that gave USF a lead they wouldn’t surrender until the final moments of the game.
ECU went through a total of six pitchers, with none lasting longer than Benton, who threw 3 1/3 innings. During his time on the mound, Benton allowed two runs off of three hits, while striking out four Bulls. Relief pitchers Ryan Ross, Chris Holba, Sam Lanier, West Covington and Matt Bridges combined to finish the game out, with Bridges getting the win.
USF’s McClanahan pitched 3 2/3 innings, allowing two runs off of one hit, while throwing five strikeouts. McClanahan left the game after an apparent cramp in his calf prevented him from continuing. Ryan Valdes came in to replace McClanahan, but was pulled after 1 1/3 innings. Jose Cavallaro pitched the final 3 1/3 innings, giving up the final three runs to the Pirates and earning the loss.
ECU will next play in the semifinals on Saturday at 1 p.m. The Pirates will face off against the winner of Friday’s game between UCF and USF.