PEARL, Miss. - Right-hander Alex Byo pitched 8.0 solid innings and the Green Wave broke a 2-2 tie with a pair of unearned runs in the bottom of the sixth as third-seeded Tulane defeated No. 6 seed East Carolina, 4-3, in day one of the 2012 Conference USA Baseball Championship on Wednesday at Trustmark Park.
Down 2-1 after five innings, the Pirates tied the score in the top of the sixth but gave the lead back to the Green Wave - literally - as back-to-back, two-out errors led to what proved to be Tulane's final runs of the ballgame. With the win, Tulane's third of the year in four head-to-head match-ups with East Carolina, the Wave improve to 38-18 overall and will continue championship play on Friday against UAB at 11 a.m. The Pirates, meanwhile, fell to 34-21-1 on the year and return to action on Friday when they square off against UCF at 3 p.m.
East Carolina out-hit the Green Wave, 12-8, but Byo (9-4) was able to pitch his way out of trouble and had some help from his defensive mates along the way. Tulane played flawless defense on the night and got highlight-reel plays from third baseman Garrett Cannizaro and right fielder Nick Schneeberger.
Cannizaro, who missed the final weekend of the regular series with a hand injury, had a game-high six assists and got a key putout courtesy of a Schneeberger toss from the outfield to thwart a would-be East Carolina scoring rally in the seventh. Byo earned the victory after giving up three runs on 11 hits and a walk while striking out three.
Left fielder Brandon Boudreaux and designated hitter Andrew Garner shared team-high hit honors for Tulane with two each, and Cannizaro led all players with a game-high two RBI. D.J. Ponder, who came on in relief of Byo following a leadoff single by Pirates' shortstop Jack Reinheimer in the ninth, picked up his 12th save of the year after giving up one hit in the final frame.
East Carolina drew first blood as Tim Younger led off the game with a single to left, advanced to second on a hit by third baseman Corey Thompson, and scored on an RBI-single to left off the bat of first baseman John Wooten. Tulane answered an inning later as catcher Jeremy Schaffer and first baseman Sean Potkay opened the stanza with back-to-back singles and later scored on an RBI-sing by Garner and a run-scoring ground-out by Cannizaro, respectively, to stake the Green Wave to a 2-1 lead.
After three scoreless innings, East Carolina tied things up in the top of the sixth when designated hitter Chase McDonald roped a two-out double down the right-field line and came around to touch the paystation one at-bat later when on a Cannon single.
It did not remain tied for long, however, as Tulane took advantage of a pair of Pirate miscues in the home half of the frame. Schneeberger got things going with a leadoff single to left and moved to third on a two-out single by Garner. East Carolina starter Kevin Brandt appeared to wiggle off the hook as he got shortstop Brandon Middleton to bounce a ground ball to his defensive counterpart for an apparent third out, but Reinheimer could not handle the ball clearly and that allowed Schneeberger to score and break the tie. Brandt followed that up with another ground ball to third off the bat of Cannizaro and this time Thompson's throw to first was off line and Garner scored what proved to be the winning run.
Brandt retired the side in order in the seventh and eighth innings, and the Pirates made things interesting in the ninth when Reinheimer moved to second on a Ponder balk and scored on a two-out, RBI-single by Thompson to cut the deficit in half. That, however, would be all Ponder and the Green Wave would allow as Tulane second baseman Bowen Woodson was able to track down a foul-ball, pop-up by Wooten to end the contest.
Thompson led the Pirates with three hits and was one of five East Carolina players to post a multiple-hit outing as Younger, Wooten, Cannon and Reinheimer tallied two hits apiece. Brandt (7-6) was strapped with the hard-luck loss after giving up four runs (two earned) on eight hits while fanning three in a complete-game effort.