CLEARWATER, FL - Fueled by a walk-off three-run bottom of the ninth inning, the eighth-seeded East Carolina Pirates stormed back to squeeze past fourth-seeded USF 6-5 on Thursday night in the winner’s bracket of the American Athletic Conference Championship at Spectrum Field.
Trailing 5-3, the Pirates (31-27) had the ball leave the infield only once in their final at-bat inning to secure the walk-off victory. USF righthander Joe Cavallaro threw 67 pitches in 3.1 innings of work, but was handed the loss when Pirates pinch-hitter Kirk Morgan put down a sacrifice squeeze bunt to the score the game-winning run from third base.
Cavallaro allowed three hits and a walk in the ninth inning. USF was 32-0 this season when leading after eight innings prior to Thursday night.
“We lost a heart breaker tonight. That last inning was pretty tough for a lot of different reasons. It is what it is. We will bounce back and be fine though,” said USF head coach Mark Kingston.
Trailing 3-2 in the sixth inning, Coco Montes led off for the Bulls (41-16) with a single up the middle, but was quickly erased on a fielders-choice by Chris Chatfield. After Cameron Montgomery struck out, Kevin Merrell laced a single down the left-field line, advancing Chatfield to third. A Duke Stunkel Jr. double would tie the game at three, and a Luke Borders two-run single gave USF a 5-3 lead that would hold until the ninth.
Borders would finish the game 1-for-3 at the plate with two walks and three RBI’s.
Chris Chatfield had the only other RBI for the Bulls hitting a solo homer to deep right field in the fourth inning. It was the second home run for Chatfield during the tournament.
Redshirt freshman Shane McClanahan returned from a one-week hiatus and got the start for USF. He went 3.2 innings allowing just one hit, but walking six while striking out five batters.
“Shane, it's been about a week and a half or two that he hasn't pitched, so it just took him a little time to settle in. Once he settled in, I thought he was really good. His velocity was up to 98 again, so the great thing to see is he was healthy,” said Kingston.
USF will need to rebound quickly as they now face UCF in an elimination game on Friday afternoon at 3:00 pm. Redshirt junior Peter Strzelecki will take the ball for USF.