GREENVILLE, N.C. – Freshman Alex Fieldhouse hit a solo home run to lead off the bottom of the second inning, lifting East Carolina to a 1-0 victory over Houston and advancing the Pirates to their second-straight Conference USA Championship game. It was ECU's fifth-straight win in the league tournament and second consecutive season knocking out the Cougars. The Pirates also joined Houston in 2007 and 2008 as the only teams in C-USA history to make repeat appearances in the championship game.
Senior Toni Paisley (29-11) blanked Houston on six hits and three strikeouts, setting the ECU single-season strikeout record with her 357th of the year. She earned the 114th victory of her career, moving her into a tie for 26th on the NCAA Division I all-time wins chart. She did not allow an extra-base hit and walked one in the complete-game effort. Houston's Amanda Crabtree (18-8) was saddled with the loss after throwing the first two innings and gave up two hits and three walks. She also fanned four. Diedre Outon came in and pitched the remaining four frames, surrendering two singles while striking out nine.
Houston threatened right away as Katy Beth Sherman led off the game with a walk and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt. Reina Gaber followed with an infield single to freshman Chelsea Kaluhiokalani-Glackin at shortstop and Sherman moved to third on Kaluhiokalani-Glackin's throw to first base, putting runners on the corners with one out. Paisley struck out Jennifer Klinkert looking on a full count and retired Conference USA Player-of-the-Year Melissa Gregson on a groundout to end the threat.
ECU had an opportunity in the bottom of the frame, but was also held off the board. Freshman Jill Jelnick led off with a walk. After a foul out on a bunt attempt, junior Suzanne Riggs drew the second free pass of the inning. Following a strikeout, freshman Jordan Lewis picked up another walk to load the bases. Crabtree got out of trouble with a pop out to Klinkert at second base.
The Pirates took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second as Fieldhouse led off with a homer to dead center field. It was Fieldhouse's third long ball of the season and second against a C-USA opponent. Crabtree struck out the next two batters before Jelnick singled to left field, but another whiff closed the frame.
In the top of the third, Ashleigh Jones started the inning with an infield single and stole second base. Paisley struck out Sherman looking, but Holly Anderson singled to left field to put runners on the corners. Anderson stole second base before Gaber fouled out to Fieldhouse at third base and Klinkert popped out to Paisley in the circle.
Houston had another opportunity to score in the top of the fifth. With one out, Jones reached on a bunt single but a foul out and groundout ended the inning.
The Pirates responded with a chance in the bottom of the fifth but failed to convert. After a strikeout started the frame, Oshiro singled off the glove of a jumping Diedre Outon in the circle. Riggs was then hit by a pitch to put runners on first and second with one out. A groundout by freshman Jasmine Robbins moved the pair up a base, but a strikeout kept ECU off the board.
The Cougars had another opportunity to break onto the scoreboard in the top of the sixth but did not capitalize. Gaber fouled out to Fieldhouse to open the frame, but Klinkert and Gregson followed with consecutive singles to put runners on first and second. Brooke Lathan bounced into a fielder's choice as she grounded one to Kaluhiokalani-Glackin, who threw to third and retired Klinkert. Paisley struck out Haley Outon swinging to end the threat. The whiff was Paisley's 357th of the year, setting the single-season record.
Paisley sent down the Cougars in order in the seventh to seal the victory.
The Pirates take on Tulsa at 11:00 a.m. Saturday in the championship contest.