GREENVILLE — After stumbling in its regional opener, East Carolina made a run through the losers bracket that culminated with a two-game sweep of Campbell on Monday at Clark-LeClair Stadium for the regional championship.
ECU advanced in the NCAA Tournament by beating the Camels 10-3 in the afternoon and 12-3 in the nightcap.
The Pirates (47-16) may have even regained some swagger as they head to Louisville for their first Super Regional since a 2016 trip to Texas Tech. ECU proved resilient, no one more so than energetic sophomore left-hander Jake Kuchmaner, who made an early exit in the 5-4 upset loss to Quinnipiac on Saturday night.
That stunning defeat put ECU in the position of having to win four straight and “Kuch” came on with his customary effectiveness to suppress the Camels (37-21) in the regional clincher as a sellout crowd of 5,206 was into every pitch.
“I think it’s 7.5 percent of teams that win a regional after losing their first game,” said Pirates coach Cliff Godwin.
Gavin Williams got ECU off to a blazing start with a first-inning fast ball that registered at 100 miles per hour. Williams pitched into the fourth and Ryder Giles provided a bridge before Kuchmaner, normally the Saturday starter, came in for three and one-third scoreless frames. Evan Voliva, who was charged with the loss against the Bobcats, got a shot at redemption from Coach Godwin and retired the last two Camel batters.
“First, I just want to thank God because there was a lot of prayers going up after Saturday night,” Godwin said. ” … He gave our players the strength for them to go out there and compete and focus on the present moment. … Everybody is pitching on fumes. The crowd was amazing. I don’t think our guys could have gotten through it these past two days without the crowd.
“I’ve coached at a lot of places. … There might not have been as many people at our place as other places but it felt like there was 10,000 or 15,000 people out there. It was awesome.”
Pirates catcher Jake Washer hit four home runs in the regional and was voted Most Outstanding Player by the media.
Bryant Packard, Alec Burleson and Jake Agnos also made all-regional from ECU.
The Pirates created offensive support quickly for a depleted pitching staff in the regional championship as Packard led off the bottom of the first with a single to left and Turner Brown had a bunt for a hit. A throwing error put runners at second and third. A ground out to the right side by Burleson brought in Packard for a 1-0 lead.
ECU added another run in the first frame on an RBI double by Spencer Brickhouse to go up, 2-0.
The Pirates expanded the margin to 4-0 in the second following a leadoff single by Thomas Francisco. Bryson Worrell walked and a single through the left side by Packard loaded the bases. A throwing error as Brown hit into a fielder’s choice accounted for the second of two runs in the second.
A home run to right-center by Brickhouse in the third gave ECU a 5-0 lead.
Spencer Packard got the Camels on the board in the fourth with an RBI single to left that scored Luis Gimenez.
Brown had an RBI double to give the Pirates a 6-1 lead. Campbell closed within 6-3 in the fifth on a 2-run double by its Packard, no relation to ECU’s standout
Williams went three and one-third innings before Ryder Giles came to the mound from third base. Kuchmaner came in to start the sixth.
Brickhouse went 3-for-4 with four RBIs in the final game of the regional. Brown was 2-for-5 with two runs driven in. Packard was 2-for-4.
Spencer Packard went 3-for-4 with three RBIs for Campbell.
“That’s an energizing factor,” Camels coach Justin Haire said of the crowd. “Just an electric atmosphere. Thankful for the opportunity. Wish we had played a little bit better, played a little bit cleaner earlier. We would maybe have had a little bit better ball game late.”
It was the largest crowd at Clark-LeClair Stadium for a game that did not involve North Carolina or N.C. State.
Pirates set stage for showdown
Facing a possible end to the 2019 season on Monday afternoon, ECU responded with a 10-3 win over Campbell to force a deciding game.
With the Pirates designated as the visiting team due to NCAA regulations, Packard led off the game with a single to left on a 2-0 pitch. Brown reached base on a bunt and Packard moved to second. Burleson’s bunt put runners at second and third. ECU took a 1-0 lead on a sacrifice fly by Washer.
Campbell scored twice in the bottom of the first as Spencer Packard’s double to left brought in Matthew Barefoot and Luis Gimenez, who had each singled.
The Pirates went ahead 3-2 in the second after Brady Lloyd drew a leadoff walk. Chandler Jenkins put down a sacrifice bunt to move Jenkins to second and he stole third. A sacrifice fly by Giles scored Lloyd to tie the score at 2. Bryson Worrell singled and came home on a double to left-center by Packard.
Spencer Brickhouse scored for the Pirates on a wild pitch in the third for a 4-2 lead.
Packard walked in the fourth and Brown’s bunt moved him to second. Burleson’s RBI single through the left side pushed the Pirates’ lead to 5-2.
In the fifth, Packard had a 2-run single and Burleson sent a 2-run double down the left field line as ECU extended the advantage to 9-2.
A single by Grant Harris and a double by Zach Minnick produced a run for the Camels in the sixth.
Washer’s 17th home run of the season pushed the Pirates’ lead to 10-3.
“He’s seeing the ball,” said ECU coach Cliff Godwin of Washer, who has four homers in the last three games.
Packard and Burleson each went 3-for-4 for the hosts.
Burleson (6-1) started for the Pirates and went five innings. He allowed seven hits and two runs (both earned) while walking three and striking out five. Zach Barnes, Sam Lanier, Cam Colmore and Garrett Saylor protected the lead in mound stints.
“Thought Burley was really gutsy,” Godwin said before pausing as his emotions took over. “Our guys just laid it on the line. … It comes down to one game, so we’ll go out there and compete and see what happens.”
Asked about his pitching plan for the nightcap, the Pirate skipper said, “All hands on deck.”