PEARL, Miss. - Sixth-seed Houston (26-30) scored five runs on seven hits in the top of the ninth inning erasing a three-run deficit to claim an 8-5 victory over third-seeded East Carolina (37-19) Wednesday night in game three of the 2011 Conference USA Championships presented by Trustmark at Trustmark Park.
Second baseman Ryan Still and shortstop Chase Jensen led a 14-hit Cougar attack with three hits each while right fielder Caleb Ramsey, left fielder Joel Ansley and third baseman Codey Morehouse had two hits apiece. Jordan Mannisto (4-3) picked up the win after giving up a pair of runs on four hits and a walk while striking out four in 5.0 innings out of the bullpen.
Trailing 5-3 heading into the final frame, things did not start off especially well for Houston as Pirates' reliever Brad Mincey got a ground-ball out to start things off. From there, however, pinch hitter Jonathan Davis got the Cougar rally going with a double to left center and Jensen followed with a two-bagger to the same spot to cut the deficit to one. The consecutive doubles were two of four-straight hits for Houston as Ansley recorded an RBI-single to right knotting the game at five and chasing Mincey from the game.
Catcher John Cannon greeted new Pirates hurler Seth Simmons rudely by roping a base hit to right to put runners on the corners and Morehouse drove in what proved to be the winning run with a sacrifice bunt to first. Appling followed with an RBI-single to right central to pad the lead and later scored on a wild pitch to account for the final score.
Lost in the outcome was a solid relief effort by Mincey (5-4), who was tagged with the loss despite holding the Cougars scoreless from late in the fourth until the top of the ninth. He finished the day giving up three runs on five hits and a pair of walks while punching out a game-high seven batters.
Houston drew first blood in the contest, breaking open a scoreless game after three with a three-spot in the top of the fourth. Jensen and Ansley opened the frame with consecutive singles and Cannon followed with a walk to load the bases. Following a foul-ball pop-up for the first out of the inning, Appling earned the first RBI of the night the hard way as he took a Shawn Armstrong offering off the elbow to reach base via hit by pitch. Still made it 2-0 with an RBI-single to center and Ramsey lifted a sacrifice fly to left to cap the scoring in the stanza.
Cougars starter Matt Creel kept the Pirates off the scoreboard over the first four innings, but ECU second baseman Mike Ussery got things going for the listed home team with a single down the left field line. Right fielder Phillip Clark followed with a walk, and two-hole hitter Corey Thompson tied things up with a three-run homer to left center in the ensuing at-bat.
The blast ended Creel's outing and Mannisto got off to a rocky start as East Carolina centerfielder Trent Whitehead and catcher Zach Wright came up with back-to-back singles, Ben Fultz drove in Whitehead with a single and Wright later scored on a wild pitch to put the Pirates on top 5-3 and set up the ninth-inning dramatics.
All nine of the ECU batters in the starting line-up had at least one hit in the loss, including two-hit performances by Thompson and Wooten. Armstrong gave up three runs on five hits with three walks while fanning five in a 3.1-inning start, and Simmons went the final two-third when he allowed two runs (one earned) on four hits.
The Pirates will be back on the diamond Thursday afternoon when they take on seventh-seed Tulane at 5 p.m. (EDT).