BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Cristen Aona’s triple to center field in the eighth inning of game one and Jessica Johnson’s two-run home run in the first inning of game two led East Carolina to a pair of 3-1 wins over UAB on Saturday at George Ward Park. The ECU (18-9, 5-3 C-USA) pitching staff allowed just two UAB (10-16, 3-5 C-USA) runs and seven Blazer hits on the day.
Aona finished her day with four hits, two runs scored, one walk, one sacrifice and the game-winning RBI in the opener. Johnson also had two big games for the Pirates, collecting a home run, two singles, two walks and two runs batted in. The pair of free passes she received in the first game tied her with former teammate Erin St. Ledger for fourth on the ECU all-time list with 84. Johnson’s two-run home run in the second game moved her into sole possession of 11th-place on the Conference USA career long ball list and tied for 11th on the league’s all-time RBI chart.
Brooke Swann also moved up in the ECU record books, as her win in the second game moved her into a tie for ninth on school’s all-time pitching victories list with 36.
In the opening contest, Charina Sumner started a Pirate threat in the top of the first, leading off with a single up the middle. Christina Merrida moved Sumner to second with a sacrifice bunt and Jessica Johnson’s single to center put runners at the corners with one out. Strikeouts by Marina Gusman-Brown and Toni Paisley allowed UAB to escape the jam and keep the Pirates off the board.
Both teams went quietly with just one hit each until the top of the fifth, when East Carolina had another scoring opportunity but could not capitalize. Merrida bunted for a single with one out and advanced to second on a passed ball before Johnson walked for the second time in the game. Gusman-Brown then hit a ball off the leg of UAB’s starting pitcher, Amber Torres, to load the bases with still only one out. A Barrella strikeout and Paisley groundout then ended the inning and kept the game scoreless.
In the top of the sixth, ECU finally broke through with one run as Aona led off with a double, moved to third on a sacrifice bunt by Sarah Bibee and scored on a Kaui Tom groundout.
UAB knotted the score at one each in the bottom of the seventh on one swing of the bat when Catherine Douglass led off with a home run to right center. Andrea Rogers then walked before Paisley retired the next three Blazers in order, sending the game into extra innings tied at 1-1.
Barrella led off the top of the eighth for the Pirates with a single through the left side and Paisley advanced her to second with a sacrifice bunt. Aona then tripled off the top of the wall in dead center field for her third hit of the game, scoring Barrella and giving ECU a 2-1 advantage. Aona’s three hits tied her career high. Bibee followed and turned an 11-pitch at bat into a single to left which plated Aona for the 3-1 lead.
The Blazers went down in order in the bottom of the eighth, allowing Paisley to improve to 13-4 on the year. She allowed just three hits and one walk while striking out seven.
East Carolina did not wait as long to get on the scoreboard in the second game, scoring two in the first on Johnson’s home run to left field. The long ball was the first East Carolina had hit this season that did not occur in the sixth inning.
In the bottom of the third, UAB’s Martina Landrum hit a two-out double and moved to third on a passed ball, but Swann got Douglass to ground out to Sumner, keeping ECU’s 2-0 lead intact.
The Blazers scratched a run across in the bottom of the fifth as Landrum hit another two-out double, this one pushing across Cameron Skates and making the ECU lead just 2-1.
East Carolina responded immediately, scoring a run in the top of the sixth to regain the two-run advantage. Gusman-Brown led off the inning with an infield single and moved to second on Aona’s sacrifice bunt. Barrella then sent a single to center that drove in Gusman-Brown for a 3-1 lead.
UAB had a runner reach third base in the bottom of the seventh, but a lineout to Aona ended the game.
The two teams will finish the series tomorrow with a single game starting at 1 p.m.