PEARL, Miss. – Pirates ace Seth Maness struck out nine in a complete-game effort and his offense pounded out 11 hits as thirds-seeded East Carolina blanked No. 2 seed and regular-season co-champion Southern Miss 4-0 in the final pod contest of the 2011Conference USA Baseball Championship sponsored by Trustmark Friday evening at Trustmark Park.
ECU right fielder Philip Clark went 3-for-5 with a double and a pair of RBI to lead the Pirates’ offensive efforts. The game, however, belonged to Maness as the senior right-hander faced just four more than the minimum and never saw more than four Golden Eagle hitters in any inning.
With the win, East Carolina improved to 39-18 on the year and 2-1 in Pod 2 action while Southern Miss fell to 39-16 overall and 1-2 in pod play. While neither team will advance to Saturday’s C-USA Championship title game, which is slated to begin at 7 p.m. and televised live on CBS Sports Network, both have a chance to continue their seasons in next week’s NCAA Regionals. The selection committee will announce the 16 host sites on Sunday and the 64-team field will be released nationally on Monday.
Maness sat down the first eight batters he faced before giving up a two-out single in the third. He pitched his way out of a two-on, nobody-out jam in the fourth with a fielders’ choice ground ball and an inning-ending double play to start a streak of five consecutive batters retired.
After a leadoff double by Southern Miss centerfielder Justin Diliberto – the same guy who broke-up the no-hit bid back in the third – Maness tallied six consecutive outs and issued his lone walk of the day to first baseman Mark Ellis to open the eighth. That would be the final Golden Eagle to reach base safely as Maness sandwiched a pair of punchouts around a fielders’ choice groundout in the eighth and tossed a three-up, three-down ninth to wrap up his fourth complete game of the season and put the stamp on his second shutout of the year.
Maness’ punchout total gave him 330 for his career which ties the East Carolina record established by Larry Crayton from 1959-61. The decision was his 37th win, and Maness moves into second place on the C-USA all-time victory list – one shy of Jared Berkowitz of Tulane’s 38 from 1997-2000.
Southern Miss starter Josh Thomason matched Maness step-for-step over the first four innings, but the East Carolina offense got things going in the top of the fifth when second baseman Mike Ussery hit a one-out single up the middle and came around to score on a double down the left field line by Clark in the ensuing at-bat. Third baseman Corey Thompson followed with an RBI-since to right central to make it 2-0.
Two innings later, first baseman John Wooten opened the seventh with a single, advanced the bases on a Jack Reinheimer sacrifice bunt and a groundout by Ussery, and scored on a Clark RBI-single to stretch the lead to three. Golden Eagles reliever Dillon Day nearly posted a perfect eighth by retiring the first two batters he faced and getting Fultz to strikeout swinging. The pitch, however, sailed wide of catcher Zach Wright, and the Pirates made the miscue hurt as designated hitter Chase McDonald smoked a 1-0 offering from Day into right centerfield to account for the final score.
Thomason (2-2) was saddled with the loss after giving up three runs on 10 hits while strikingout three in a 7.0-inning start. Diliberto had two of the Golden Eagles’ three hit hits.