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Pirates slay Bulls to earn
title shot versus Houston

By Denny O'Brien

[ View Box Score ]

KINSTON — The locals refer to it as K-Town, home of their beloved Indians.  With a 3-2 win over seventh-seeded South Florida, East Carolina inched one win closer to renaming it Title Town, the Pirates' official home away from home.

Thought prior to the Conference USA tournament to be a long shot to take home the league's top prize, 6th-seeded ECU continued its inspirational journey Saturday, upending the Golden Bulls for the second time this week and the fourth time this year to set up a winner-take-all championship game with Houston this afternoon at 2 PM.

With the win, East Carolina (40-18-1) reached the 40-win plateau for the fourth consecutive season and erased many doubts about its NCAA tournament status.  South Florida (33-27), which many believed needed a tournament championship to earn a postseason bid, must sit and wait to learn its fate on Monday.

"It's been a pretty good journey so far," assistant coach Kevin McMullan said.  "Our thoughts as a team when we entered this conference was to play in the conference championship game.  Here we are.

"All of this has been a team effort, among the coaches and the players — staying together, believing in one another, trusting each other.  This is first step in the postseason process."

East Carolina first baseman Darryl
Lawhorn locks and loads in the
Pirates 3-2 Conference USA
Tournament win over South Florida Saturday. The freshman
slugger, who had a double and a single and drove in two runs in the game, has hit safely in 8 of 13 at bats during the tourney.

Photo: Sara Whitford.

The Pirates got a solid pitching performance from Jason Mandryk (7-3), who surrendered just one run in six innings, while scattering five hits, walking two, and striking out four.  Kieran Mattison, Glenn Tucker, and Gregg Bunn each pitched an inning in relief, yielding just one run — an RBI ground out off Tucker in the eighth — over the final three innings.

Bunn, just a freshman, picked up the save, his seventh of the season.  Ryan Gloger (5-4) took the loss for the Bulls.

"I went through my usual routine," Mandryk said of his outing.  "I knew the coaches had a lot of confidence in me, and I had confidence in myself.

"My team played excellent defense behind me.  That's everything you need.  I just went out there and had fun."

The Pirates managed just five hits on the afternoon, but delivered when it mattered most.  Freshman Darryl Lawhorn's one-out RBI single in the fifth proved to be the game winner, capping off a two-run inning that gave the Pirates a 3-1 edge.

Lawhorn's shot tied an ECU single-season record for hits (98), giving him a chance to break the record in tomorrow's title game. 

"I wasn't really worried about records, or anything like that," Lawhorn said.  "I'm just focused on getting wins in the tournament.  Hopefully we can come out and play a great Houston team tomorrow and get a win."

Lawhorn and senior third baseman Bryant Ward had two hits apiece to pace the Pirates offensively.  Second baseman Jedd Sorenson added an infield single and an RBI to round out the five-hit attack.

East Carolina got on the board first in the bottom of the third when Lawhorn's double down the right field line was bobbled by South Florida right fielder Scott Rachlin, enabling Ben Sanderson to score from first. 

The Golden Bulls would later even the score in the fifth when third baseman Myron Leslie's looping, two-out single into right-center drove in Bryan Hierlmeier.

Now, it's on to the title tilt against the top-seeded Cougars, who dominated Tulane Saturday, 7-2, to nail down the other spot in today's climactic showdown.

"We're excited to play in the championship game," McMullan said.  "We're playing an outstanding Houston ball club that we played three times during the season.

"We have a tremendous amount of respect for their team.  We will definitely have a great challenge on our hands tomorrow at 2:00.  Our focus right now is to win the Conference USA championship.  That's where we're at."

Davey Penny is scheduled to start against Houston this afternoon.  He surrendered just three runs in eight innings against the No. 7 Cougars earlier this season in an 11-4 ECU win. The Pirates captured two victories when Houston visited Greenville for a three-game series April 5-7. The Cougars.

A diverse network of television outlets assembled by the C-USA will carry today's clash for the crown on either a live or delayed basis. The league office has also released the satellite coordinates for the game's signal.

[ View Box Score ]

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02/23/2007 02:05:58 AM

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