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The Bradsher Beat
Friday, May 23, 2008

By Bethany Bradsher

Pitching out of turn pays off for Hose

By Bethany Bradsher
All rights reserved.

No athlete in the history of double elimination has ever wished to toil in the loser’s bracket. But their journey to the doldrums of the Conference USA Tournament brought the East Carolina Pirates to one of the greatest moments of the season.

With T.J. Hose pitching 4.1 hitless innings in just his third relief appearance of the year, the Diamond Bucs defeated Rice 4-3 on Thursday to send the Owls packing.

Rice entered the tournament as its top seed and the No. 5 team in the nation.

It was a clutch victory made even sweeter by ECU’s recent futility against the Owls (the last time the Pirates beat Rice was in 2006) and by ECU’s need to redeem two losses in a week — to Memphis on Sunday and to Houston on Wednesday in a 10-inning first-round tournament game.

“It was just a huge game for us, mentally, because we lost a game against Memphis, then a heartbreaker against Houston,” Hose said. “We just knew that we couldn’t go into regionals on a three-game skid.”

For the record, Hose was originally scheduled to watch Thursday’s action from the dugout. The senior from Hagerstown, MD, was slated as the Pirates’ Game 3 starter. But he made one thing perfectly clear to the ECU coaching staff — he would forego that start and pitch any number of innings in relief if it would help propel his team forward.

On Thursday morning, with Rice’s dangerous offense always just a hit away from a rally, Hose got his chance. He entered the game in the fifth, smoothing the path for his teammates to take the lead in the sixth with a three-run inning keyed by Corey Kemp’s solo home run. Hose's insertion into the game means that Sthil Sowers will likely start tonight in his place, but Hose doesn’t have one regret about volunteering.

“I just told Coach, ‘Look, the third game’s not guaranteed, and if I have the chance to help us win I want to do that,’ Hose said. “I don’t think anyone expected ECU and Rice to be playing in an elimination game.

“I was able to make pitches when I needed to and make outs when we needed them,” he said.

It was just the kind of rocket boost the Pirates needed to move on in the tournament, which will continue with ECU facing either Houston or UAB Friday night.

Because of heavy rain Thursday after the conclusion of the ECU-Rice game, several of the other second-round games were postponed. So Houston and UAB will play at 12:30 CDT and then the winner of that game will face the Pirates at 7:30 CDT.

Either matchup would be a test. UAB, seeded eighth in the tournament, shocked the field on Wednesday with its 8-3 victory over Rice, the game that send the Owls into the loser’s bracket to meet the Pirates.

Or ECU could get another run at Houston, this time as the team that sent the top seed home.

It was a triumph that the ECU players will carry around like an inner trophy. But it never could have happened if they hadn’t been first been labeled as losers.

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05/23/2008 04:33:52 AM

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