Whether East Carolina wins or loses in
the Conference USA baseball tournament at Clark-LeClair Stadium this
week, the Pirates are going to come out on top in terms of the bottom
line, according to ECU athletic director Terry Holland.
"It's a great boon for the whole
community, obviously, and for East Carolina University," said Holland
from a vantage point in the press box. "We'll bring in a lot of people
at a time of the year when people are usually leaving town.
"Hopefully, we'll bring more people
into town than are heading out to the beach."
ECU gave Conference USA a guarantee to
host the event. The Pirates were originally scheduled to host in 2008,
of course, but Tulane fell behind in its repairs and renovations at
Turchin Stadium in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
So Holland and the Pirates welcomed the
event a year ahead of time and it will be an unbudgeted moneymaker for
ECU. The ECU AD knew that on Monday this week.
"We have no problem making that,"
Holland said of the guaranteed figure to C-USA. "We sold that on the
Individual session tickets went on sale
"The more people that come the rest of
the way, (the better off ECU will be financially)," Holland said. "If we
keep playing, I think they'll be here."
The Pirates took a big step in the
tournament with a big swing of the bat by Harrison Eldridge in a
two-strike, two-out situation with two on in the bottom of the seventh.
The junior centerfielder from
Knoxville, TN, turned on an inside fastball from Tulane ace Shooter
Hunt, who had been all but untouchable until a crowd of 2,608 took its
seventh inning stretch.
A walk and a single set the stage for a
towering drive off the bat of the 5-foot-7 Eldridge.
"I was just trying to battle," Eldridge
said. "When you've got two strikes on you, you're just looking for
something not to strike out and put the ball in play. Shooter Hunt has
one of the better curveballs in the league.
"Basically, you sit on fastball and
adjust to the offspeed. He gave me a pitch to where I could handle a
little bit. It was a little lower than belt high. He hit his spot. It
was a pitcher's pitch. It just didn't work out for him.
"I'm not taking anything away from him.
He's a great pitcher."
Hunt, who came in with a 2.44 earned
run average and made first team All C-USA on Tuesday, had allowed just
one hit until the seventh, a single to Stephen Batts in the third.
"We had been going inside on him all
night," Hunt said of his book against Eldridge. "I thought I made a good
pitch, but he just turned on it and got a good piece of the ball. I won
the first two at-bats and he won the last one."
While Eldridge's blast appeared to have
fence-clearing power written all over it, he said he wasn't sure.
"Going off the bat, I knew it had a
chance," he said. "I was just basically telling myself going to first
base, 'Please go. Please go. We need this so bad.' I saw the berm (fans
beyond the right field fence) go up to catch the ball before it was over
and it was definitely one of the better feelings I've ever had in my
The Wave had nicked ECU starter T.J.
Hose for two runs and a 2-0 lead in the sixth. Not lost in the
excitement of Eldridge's sixth home run of the season was 3 2/3 innings
of scoreless relief from the Pirates bullpen. Jason Nietz, Bailey
Daniels and Shane Mathews combined to protect ECU's lead.
Jamie Ray had an RBI single in the
eighth for the final 4-2 margin.
ECU coach Billy Godwin saw his team
show a winning hand when the chips were down.
"Talk about big time players coming up
in big time situations," said the Pirates coach. "What a great effort by
Harrison Eldridge, T.J. Hose and our pitching staff. T.J. gave us a
great outing and for Jason Nietz and Bailey Daniels to come in and do
what they did — it was a great effort from my pitching staff."
Godwin said he thought Eldridge's drive
"It was the difference in the game,"
Godwin said. "It was huge for him to come up like that. He struggled up
to that point, came up at a big time and got a big knock."
Golden Eagles next
The Pirates play the hottest team in
the league at 7:30 tonight — Southern Miss, which has won 11 straight,
including a 9-5 win over UAB on Wednesday. The Blazers were up 5-2 until
the Golden Eagles erupted for six runs in the seventh.
"Momentum in this game is huge," said
Godwin of tonight's matchup which will pit two teams coming off of
exhilarating comeback wins. "A come-from-behind win against a very good
pitcher is huge. We'll enjoy this tonight, but tomorrow it's 0-0 when we
start and play Southern Miss."
Eldridge was on the same page.
"We've got to come out tomorrow and
wipe this away," said Wednesday night's hero. "We're 0-0 again is
basically what you want to say."
Like Tulane, the Golden Eagles took two
of three from the Pirates during the regular season. A 6-3 loss to ECU
on Sunday, April 29, in Greenville was Southern Miss' last loss.
Dustin Sasser (5-4, 3.59 ERA), who
will start tonight for ECU, went five innings and got the loss in a
5-1 Southern Miss win in Greenville on April 28. The junior
left-hander from Pikeville Aycock yielded eight hits, all five runs
— three of which were earned — with three walks and three strikeouts
the first time he faced the Golden Eagles this season.
He is 0-2 for his career against
Southern Miss, having pitched into the sixth inning in a loss in
Hattiesburg in 2006.
"All I need to do tomorrow is try to
get ahead of all the hitters, try to get the first out of every inning
and not try to do too much — just relax and throw the ball and let it
take care of itself from there," Sasser said. "Southern Miss is a good
team. They put the ball in play and they've got good pitching.
"The only thing we can control is
ourselves. We're just going to come out tomorrow with the same
intensity. I'm going to try to do my job and let the game take care of