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ECU overcomes Wake Forest in wild NCAA Greenville Regional Walkoff win

GREENVILLE, NC – Trailing by two runs in the bottom of the ninth and facing elimination in the NCAA Greenville Regional Saturday afternoon, top seed East Carolina never stopped believing and posted a three-spot finish that culminated in a Lucas Nowak walkoff single as the Pirates turned aside No. 2 seed Wake Forest 7-6 at Lewis Field at Clark-LeClair Stadium.

East Carolina remains alive in the tournament and will face the loser of the winners’ match between No. 3 seed VCU and No. 4 seed Evansville on Sunday at noon.

The Demon Deacons (38-22) appeared to seize control in the top of the ninth with five runs that turned a 4-1 deficit into a 6-4 lead, but ECU (44-16) had no intention of a legendary Trey Yesavage performance is not rewarded.

After missing the American Athletic Conference tournament due to injury, the future Major League Baseball draft pick dazzled in the first round with an epic 7.1-inning performance in which he defeated the preseason national No. 1-ranked Demon Deacons limited to one run and a single hit with six strikeouts.

Charlie Hodges (1-0) earned his first career victory on the mound, registering the final from the top of the ninth frame. Michael Massey was tagged with the loss when he gave up three runs on four hits without recording an out.

Greenville resident Dixon Williams put on a show for the 5,700 hometown faithful, recording three hits, two runs scored and four RBI, including a three-run tank at the top of the scoreboard that effectively ended the day of Wake Forest ace Chase Burns posting season-lows in pitched innings (5.0) and strikeouts (seven).

Both starters retired their respective teams in order in the first inning, before the Pirates posed the first offensive threat of the game in the bottom of the second. Jacob Spreeuw was hit by a one-way pitch and then went to second base. Ryan McCrystal followed with a walk and Nowak moved him to third on a fielder’s choice, but Burns recovered and scored a strikeout to end the inning.

A pair of walks and a wild pitch in the top of the third set up Nick Kurtz for the first run of the afternoon when he hit an 0-1 offering to right center for an RBI single that plated Cameron Gill from third. However, East Carolina finally started to square Burns in the bottom of the fifth. Joey Berini made a full leadoff walk, advanced to second base on a wild pitch and took third base on a groundout. Trailing 0-2, McCrystal drove one down the left field line that fell fair to score Berini and tie things up at one.

The inning continued as Jacob Jenkins-Cowart achieved with a Burns-free pass. Williams then connected on a 2-1 slider and nearly drilled it over the scoreboard – a 130-yard bomb that gave the Pirates a 4-1 cushion.

As it turned out, neither side dented the scoreboard in the next three frames, setting up the ninth-inning drama. The Demon Deacons put on their first two runners thanks to a pitch hit by Jake Reinisch and a single by Seaver King. Nowak then made a diving catch to left that accounted for the first out, but two singles, an error, a walk, a fielder’s choice and another single resulted in five Wake Forest runs. Hodges eventually induced a fly ball to left for the final half of the half.

In what has become the recurring theme of the 2024 campaign, the Purple and Gold refused to go quietly. Ryley Johnson ripped a leadoff single up the middle and McCrystal planted a 1-2 offering into right center to push Johnson to third base. Jenkins-Cowart then wasted little time by hitting a first-pitch single up the middle, making Johnson a one-run game. Williams followed with another single, this one through the left side, to score the pinch runner Nathan Chrismon and knot the score back to six. ECU wasn’t done yet, as Starling was hit by an 0-1 pitch to load the bases. Wake Forest avoided elimination by recording a force out at home, but Nowak scored 1-1 and split the right side of the infield for the winning RBI tally.

Postgame notes graphic

  • East Carolina improved to 13-7 against Wake Forest in the all-time series and 1-1 in NCAA Tournament play.
  • The walkoff win was the Pirates’ fourth of the season before such wins over then-No. 15 North Carolina, Cal State Fullerton and Wichita State.
  • ECU scored three times in the bottom of the ninth to win a game for the second time this season. The other was Williams’ epic steal of home plate in the AAC Tournament semifinal win over Wichita State on May 25 in Clearwater, Florida.
  • The Pirates put seven of their nine leadoff hitters on base and went 3-for-4 (.750) with a runner on third base and less than two outs.
  • East Carolina improved to 27-5 this campaign within the friendly confines of Clark-LeClair Stadium.

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