GREENVILLE, N.C. – Garrett Brooks scored the game-winning run in the ninth inning when Zach Houchins reached on a throwing error giving East Carolina (1-0) a 6-5 walk-off win over James Madison (0-1) Friday afternoon at Lewis Field inside Clark-LeClair Stadium.
With the game knotted at five-all, Travis Watkins led off the bottom of the ninth with a single to right field for his second hit of the afternoon. Brooks immediately came in to pinch run and then took second on Kirk Morgan’s sac bunt back to Sam Martin in front of the mound moving the runner 90-feet closer to home. After a JMU pitching change and a Reid Love ground out, Drew Reynolds stepped to the plate looking to drive Brooks in, but the senior second baseman got a free pass when he was struck in the foot by an Aaron Hoover pitch. Zach Houchins followed and with a full-count, he hit a high chopper to third where Ty McFarland threw wide of first base allowing Brooks to score the game-winning run.
Ryan Williams, who was named the 2014 recipient of the honorary No. 23 jersey Keith LeClair jersey last Saturday, picked up the win in relief working 2.1 innings allowing an unearned run on two hits with a pair of strikeouts. Toeing the rubber for his second-straight Opening Day start, junior right-hander Jeff Hoffman surrendered four runs (three earned) on four hits with six punch-outs in 6.2 innings. Nick Durazo faced one batter in between Hoffman and Williams (1-0) giving up a base hit before handing the ball off.
Hoover (0-1) took the loss for the Dukes despite scattering three hits over three full frames of relief duty, but Brooks’ run was credited to his stat line since he gave up the Watkins base knock to start the ninth. Mark Gunst got the start and mostly kept the Pirates in check until serving up a three-run homer to Ian Townsend in the sixth giving ECU its first lead of the contest. The right-hander worked five innings allowing four runs (all earned) on four hits and struck out three. Ben Garner gave up an earned run in one-third of an inning, while Michael Howerton faced two batters recording one out before game ended on an errant throw.
JMU jumped out to an early 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning when McFarland smacked a 1-0 offering from Hoffman over the right field wall. It marked the second time in the last four years that the Pirates served up a round-tripper to their opponent’s leadoff hitter on Opening Day – other came in 2011 when David Leon (Youngstown State) took the games second pitch for a ride off Seth Maness.
ECU answered in the second when Dylan Brown blasted his fourth career home run for ECU also sending a shot to right field, tying the contest at one-all.
Two innings later, the Dukes pushed across a pair of runs taking a 3-1 advantage. Back-to-back singles by Conner Brown and Matt Tenagila, followed by a well executed sac bunt by Kevin Husum back to Hoffman moved both runners into scoring position. An RBI groundout to second by Tyler Gregory pushed across Brown for the first run and Tenagila scored on a passed ball capping the frame.
Townsend’s three-run homer in the sixth highlighted a four-run stanza that gave ECU a 5-3 lead. Reynolds reached on an infield single to second and Houchins followed with a shot to right center before Townsend’s blast to right cleared the bases. Luke Lowery got his first hit of the 2014 campaign with a single through the left side and Ben Fultz moved him to second on a sac bunt. Two batters later, Watkins collected the first of this two hits singling home Lowery with a rope to left.
JMU scored a run in each of the seventh and eighth innings tying the game at five. McFarland’s second of three hits drove in Kyle Weston pulling the Dukes within one, 5-4. Husum evened the contest with a sac fly to center that scored Conner Brown, who reached to start the frame on swinging third strike that Watkins couldn’t handle.
Seven different Pirates recorded one hit with Watkins leading the way going 2-for-3 with an RBI. Love and Townsend, teammates at St. Johns River State College in Florida, each tallied hits in their debuts, while Houchins (19 games) and Reynolds (18) extended their streaks of reaching base safely.
The Pirates and Dukes will play game two of the three game series Saturday, Feb. 15 with a 2 p.m. (EST) first pitch scheduled.