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Pirates claim AAC Tournament

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

CLEARWATER, FL East Carolina scored five runs with two out in the fifth inning and went on to win the American Athletic Conference Tournament 9-1 over Houston at Bright House Field on Sunday.

Left-hander Nick Durazo (5-0) held the AAC regular season winners to one hit and no runs over the final five innings after starter David Lucroy experienced cramps in his right forearm.

Durazo struck out five and didn't allow a walk.

The Pirates improved to 40-20 and will learn their circumstances for the NCAA Tournament at an announcement gathering at BW3's sports bar inside Arlington Square in Greenville at noon today.

Bryce Harman's single with two down in the fifth started ECU's decisive frame. Designated hitter Luke Bolka followed with a home run well over the fence in left for a 3-1 Pirates lead.

A single by Hunter Allen, who received the event's Most Outstanding Player award, kept the inning going. Charlie Yorgen singled and Reid Love was hit by a pitch to load the bases.

Eric Tyler walked to force in a run. Luke Lowery's single to right field scored two runs for a 6-1 ECU lead.

Allen singled to left field in the ninth with one out and Love singled to center with two away. An error on a hot grounder to third by Tyler allowed Allen to score and put the Pirates ahead, 7-1.

Garrett Brooks entered the game to run for Tyler and two runs came home on a single to left by Lowery on a full count pitch as ECU extended its margin to 9-1.

Yorgen was hit by a pitch with one out in the first inning and Love singled. A double steal preceded a grounder to the right side by Tyler that put ECU on top, 1-0.

A sacrifice fly on a foul ball to left by Justin Montemayor allowed the Cougars (42-18) to tie the score at 1 in the bottom of the second before Lucroy stranded two runners in scoring position.

Lucroy allowed four hits and one earned run while walking two and recording one strikeout.

The Pirates claimed their first league tournament title since beating Houston 4-0 in the Conference USA championship at Grainger Stadium in Kinston on May 26, 2002. Former ECU coach Keith LeClair, stricken with ALS, watched that game from a vehicle parked down the right field line.

ECU played its first season in the AAC in 2015.

Current ECU skipper Cliff Godwin, the AAC Coach of the Year, played for LeClair and has worn his No. 23 jersey this season in his first year as coach at his alma mater.

"They've been ready to go all day," Godwin said during an in-game interview Sunday on ESPNU. "They know they're playing for a championship ring and to get to 40 wins. Those were two of our goals."

Houston had taken two of three from ECU in a series May 8-10 that allowed the Cougars to claim the AAC regular season title. Houston sandwiched decisive 10-1 and 11-1 wins around a 4-1 Pirates victory pitched by Love that weekend.

ECU has won eight straight since that last loss in Houston.

Seth Romero pitched his first complete game for the Cougars in the earlier seven-inning triumph on the 10-run mercy rule. Romero started Sunday but was pulled during ECU's fifth-inning surge.

Godwin planned to use Bolka in that May 10 matchup. Bolka's home run was his second in 27 at-bats for the Pirates this season.

"I was going to start him the last time we faced Romero in Houston but he dove for a ball in the outfield and jammed his shoulder," the ECU coach said. "He's got power for us and he's got a quick bat. We just sent him out there and hoped he'd run into one. We looked like geniuses when that worked out."

Freshman reliever Joe Ingle, who picked up his eighth save in a 4-2 win over Connecticut on Saturday, was named to the AAC All-Tournament team along with teammates Allen, Love and Lowery.

PAGE UPDATED 05/30/15 07:52 PM.

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