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Battle for league booty
nears climactic finish

From staff reports

As the song goes, "Only the Strong Survive."

After today, the weak will be culled and the strong will be staring each other square in the face.

Houston and East Carolina, each needing only one more win to advance to Sunday's Conference USA Tournament climax, lay their unbeaten tourney records on the line against the survivors of yesterday's losers bracket eliminations.

The Cougars face Tulane smack dab in the middle of the Saturday morning TV cartoon jubilee. If the Wave rolls in the 9:00 a.m. clash, the teams will wage another battle at 4:00 p.m. to determine which advances to tomorrow's championship game.

Meanwhile, ECU will have a 12:30 p.m. rematch against South Florida, a team it defeated Thursday night. If the Bulls prevail, they will charge the Pirates again in a 7:30 p.m. bullfight to settle the final spot in the title tilt once and for all.

The first pitch for Sunday's winner-take-all showdown is set for 2:00 p.m., with a diverse network of television outlets cobbled together by the league office scheduled to carry the game live or on a delayed basis.

East Carolina is the host team for the tournament, which is being conducted in Kinston. Based on a subjective judgment, the sizable and boisterous crowds at sessions involving the Pirates seem to have influenced the ebb and flow of momentum to ECU's advantage.

Southpaw Sam Narron, coming off a sore arm, hurled 8⅓ innings of three-hit ball as ECU defeated Texas Christina 5-1 in Wednesday's opening round before 2,241 noisy partisans.

The crowd was even larger, 2,516, and louder, as freshman slugger Darryl Lawhorn had four hits, including a timely home run, to spearhead an innings-long rally that dug the Pirates out of a 7-1 hole to a gut-stirring 12-10 victory over USF in a second round Thursday game.

A coveted trophy and an automatic bid to the NCAA baseball championship playoffs await the lone team standing when the dust settles at Grainger Stadium.

If ECU emerges as the conqueror, an additional crown jewel of sorts will be a part of the booty — it will be the school's first title in any league-sanctioned sport since becoming a member of Conference USA.

02/23/2007 11:21 AM


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