PEARL, Miss. – It was a game that featured outstanding pitching, high drama and a pair of extra innings. And while Tulane might look back and remember it as a game of missed opportunities, East Carolina will recall a clutch, two-run double by third baseman Corey Thompson as the Pirates defeated the Green Wave 4-2 in 11 innings in day two of the 2011 Conference USA Baseball Championship sponsored by Trustmark at Trustmark Park.
With the score knotted at 2-2 with two on and one away in the top of what proved to be the final frame, Thompson ripped a first-pitch offering from Green Wave reliever Nick Pepitone into the gap in left centerfield to provide the winning margin. Tulane had a chance to potentially tie things up in the home half of the inning with a pair of runners in scoring position and only one out, but Pirates reliever Kevin Brant pitched his way out of the jam by retiring the next two men he faced to spark the ECU celebration.
In victory, East Carolina improved to 38-19 and remains in contention for one of the spots in Saturday’s C-USA Championship title game. The Pirates will need Southern Miss to defeat Houston in Thursday’s nightcap and win over the Golden Eagles tomorrow in a game slated for 8:30 p.m. (EDT).
Tulane, meanwhile, fell to 30-26 on the year and 0-2 in Pool 2 action. The Green Wave will conclude the 2011 season on Friday with a 4 p.m. contest against Houston.
Brandt (7-3) picked up the win out of the bullpen after giving up just one run on three hits and a trio of walks while fanning three in 4.1 innings of relief. He came on for starter Mike Wright, who gave up a run on five hits and two walks while striking out four in 6.2 solid frames.
Thompson went 3-for-6 in the ballgame with three RBI, and was one of two Pirates to post three hits for the game as centerfielder Trent Whitehead was 3-for-5.
While both teams stranded 12 runners on the basepaths, it was the Green Wave’s lost scoring opportunities that made the difference in the game as Tulane was just 6-for-22 with runners on base and 3-for-14 in RBI situations. Two-thirds of Tulane’s dozen stranded runners were in scoring position, including a combined five over the final three innings.
Lost in the defeat were stellar pitching performances by both Pepitone and starter David Napoli. Napoli went six-plus for the Green Wave, allowing a pair of runs on four hits and three walks while striking out five. Despite fanning a pair in 4.1 innings out of the pen, Pepitone (4-2) was saddled with the loss after allowing two runs on eight hits during his time on the hill. D.J. Ponder went the final two-thirds for Tulane, retiring the only batter he faced on a double play.
East Carolina drew first blood in the third inning when second baseman Mike Ussery opened the inning with a walk, advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by right fielder Philip Clark, and came around to score on an RBI-single through the right side by Thompson.
Tulane came right back an inning later as designated hitter Brandon Boudreaux roped a leadoff double to left and scored on the ensuing at-bat when catcher Jeremy Schaffer dribbled a run-scoring single to left central to tie things up at 1-all.
Following a pair of scoreless frames, East Carolina reclaimed the lead in the seventh. Left fielder Ben Fultz led off the inning with a walk to chase Napoli from the game, but after an infield pop-up and a single by shortstop Jack Reinheimer, Ussery made it 2-1 with an RBI-groundout to second.
Brandt made the lead hold up until the bottom of the ninth when Tulane right fielder Cody Robinson hammered a leadoff triple to right and scored one hitter later when reserve first baseman Matt Ryan roped an RBI-single to right center to make it 2-all.
The Green Wave had a chance to end the game in regulation as third baseman Quinn Pippin moved Ryan to second with a sacrifice bunt for the first out of the frame, but Brandt wiggled off the hook by getting shortstop Garrett Cannizaro to line out to right and second baseman Brennan Middleton to fly out to center.
After both teams left the bases loaded in a scoreless 10th and Thompson delivered the big blow in the top of the 11th, Tulane made things interesting in the bottom of the inning as Pippin was plunked and Cannizaro walked to start the frame and Middleton followed with a sacrifice bunt to move the duo into scoring position. Brandt, however, was once again up to the task for the Pirates and struck out back-up centerfielder Bowen Woodson looking and getting a fly ball to right off the bat of pinch hitter Gunner Wright to thwart the rally and end the ballgame.
Robinson was the lone Tulane hitter to post a multiple-hit outing, going 2-for-4 with a double and a triple while scoring the game-tying run in the ninth.