Hunter Allen’s bases loaded walk in the 11th inning scored Eric Tyler and gave East Carolina a 9-8 win over host and No. 3 seed Southern Miss Wednesday night at Pete Taylor Park on opening day of the 2014 Conference USA Baseball Championships.
Southern Miss reliever Sean Bucholz issued three walks in the top of the 11th inning, including back-to-back bases-on-balls that forced in the game-winning run.
“I’m just really proud of our kids to have (a four-run) lead and squander it,” ECU coach Billy Godwin said. “A lot of times, you lose that game. But we showed great resiliency and I’m proud of our team.”
With its league-leading, 15th one-run victory, the Pirates (33-24) moved on to face seventh-seeded UTSA (33-24) at 8:30 p.m. (ET) Thursday in a winners’ bracket game.
Host USM (32-24) will face second-seeded UAB (35-20) in an elimination game at 1:30 p.m. (ET) Thursday.
The Golden Eagles committed a season-high six errors, leading to four unearned runs, and contributing in large part to their 8-4 deficit going into the bottom of the seventh inning.
But USM scored two runs in the seventh inning on left fielder’s Dylan Burdeaux’s two-out single and another in the eighth inning on second baseman Nick Dawson’s sacrifice fly to get within 8-7.
Then, after shortstop Michael Sterling turned an unassisted double play to get USM out of a one-out, bases-loaded jam in the top of the ninth, the Golden Eagles tied it in the bottom of the inning on consecutive two-out walks by catcher Matt Durst and Burdeaux off ECU reliever Ryan Williams (11-3)
But after a scoreless 10th inning, left fielder Dylan Brown led off ECU’s 11th with a double into the right-field corner off Bucholz (0-1).
After Brown moved to third on a fly-out to center, catcher Eric Tyler coaxed a walk after falling behind 0-2 in the count. That prompted a comment from USM coach Scott Berry, which prompted his ejection by home plate umpire Scott Wilkerson.
Joshua Lovick laid down a squeeze, but Bucholz flipped the ball to Durst to get Brown coming home for the inning’s second out.
But Bucholz walked center fielder Garrett Brooks on five pitches and shortstop Hunter Allen on four to force in the game-winner, and Williams got USM in order in the bottom of the inning.
“It is tough to win a Division I postseason game committing six errors,” USM assistant coach Chad Caillet said. “Obviously, six walks didn’t help either, and the last one was the crucial one.
“You have to play cleaner baseball in the post-season.”
The game started with a bang, as USM center fielder Breck Kline led off USM’s first inning with a solo home run to left field. It was the first homer of the sophomore’s career and the first by a USM player to lead off a game since Bo Davis against Florida in the 2009 Super Regional.
But ECU’s first baseman Bryce Harman returned the favor in the third inning, crushing his seventh homer of the season to right field.
Brooks followed with a single, moved to second on an errant pickoff attempt, went to third on a sacrifice bunt and scored on a squeeze play for a 2-1 lead as USM starter Christian Talley slipped fielding the ball.
USM answered with three runs in the bottom the inning, including runs-scoring singles by right fielder Mason Robbins and Burdeaux and a fielder’s choice grounder by Durst.
But consecutive singles by Allen and second baseman Charlie Yorgen were followed by three USM errors, two walks and a two-run single by starting ECU catcher Luke Lowery off USM reliever Luke Lowery. When the dust had settled, the Pirates had carved out a five-run inning and a 7-4 lead.
Harman’s opposite-field double into the left-center field gap gave ECU an 8-4 lead in the top of the seventh inning.
Burdeaux had three of USM’s 10 hits and drove in career-high four RBIs, while Kline added two hits. In addition to his game-winning walk, Brooks collected a team-high three hits for ECU, while Harman and Yorgen added two each.