The East Carolina softball team came within one out of toppling No. 20 Georgia, but the Bulldogs used a two-out, two-RBI single in the bottom of the eighth inning to down the Pirates 2-1. ECU did salvage the first game of the day, rallying past North Florida 5-3 with five runs in the last two frames. The Pirates now stand at 19-9 on the season while heading into this weekend's conference series with Southern Miss at 2-1 in C-USA play.
With the Pirates batting as the visiting team for the third-straight contest, Charina Sumner led off the game against North Florida with her second triple of the season. However, she was stranded as with one out, Jessica Johnson lined out to third while Sumner was caught off the bag, completing a double play to end the inning.
The Ospreys went ahead in the bottom of the first. Ashley Parenteau led off with a walk and advanced to second when Kara Rutenbar singled. After a sacrifice bunt moved the runners to second and third, Ashley Battaglia knocked a two-RBI single to center that scored both Parenteau and Rutenbar. North Florida added another run in the second off a Parenteau single to go ahead 3-0. The Ospreys threatened to add more but an inning-ending double play snuffed out the rally.
With East Carolina's offense absent through five innings, North Florida positioned itself to break the game open. However, timely double plays in the fourth and fifth frames kept the Pirates within striking distance.
ECU used the sixth inning, an inning that had been unkind in its two contests yesterday, to post four runs on three hits. With one out, Erin St. Ledger walked. Then, Stacey Andrews blasted a monster home run that cleared the trees behind the left field fence and made the score 3-2. Cristen Aona was subsequently hit by a pitch that spurred the Ospreys to change pitchers. As Tori Ahern replaced starter Devyn Findley, she was greeted by Vanessa Moreno who promptly laced a double to right center. Then, Kaui Tom ripped a double of her own that scored Moreno and Jillian Gallagher and pushed the Pirates in front 4-3. Gallagher had pinch run for Aona.
ECU added an insurance run in the top of the seventh to stretch its lead to 5-3, setting up a dramatic bottom of the seventh. With the bases loaded and two out. Battaglia, who belted the game-winning grand slam in North Florida's 6-3 victory over the Pirates yesterday, stepped up to the plate. However, Brooke Swann, who replaced starter Suzanne Riggs in the sixth, was able to make Battaglia swing and miss on a 3-2 pitch.
The freshman Riggs, making her first collegiate start in the circle, notched her first collegiate win. She went five innings, giving up three runs on seven hits. Swann hurled the last two innings while tallying her second save of the season. Andrews, Moreno and Tom lifted East Carolina offensively, as they combined to go 4-for-9 with two runs, a double and a home run.
The Pirates put up the first serious threat of the game against Georgia in the top of the fifth inning. With one out, Sissy Jimenez singled in the infield. Andrews then singled to right field, advancing Jimenez to second. After Sarah Bibee replaced Jimenez at second, she was thrown out at third on a fielder's choice play, leaving Andrews at second. Sumner then poked a single to shortstop, loading the bases. However, Tom was unable to push anyone across, as she grounded out to second.
The Bulldogs came close to taking the lead in the bottom of the sixth. Alisa Goler led off the half-inning with a single to center and reached second on a sac bunt. Megan Wiggins then walked, putting runners at first and second with one out. The next batter, Megan Schlopy was hit by a pitch, loading the bases. However, Jennie Auger fouled into a double play as Goler was gunned down at the plate by Andrews.
Georgia loaded the bases again in the bottom of the seventh with two outs, but Goler was thrown out at second on a fielder's choice play, sending the contest to extra innings.
ECU took a 1-0 lead in the top of the eighth. Merrida was placed on second due to the international tiebreaker rule. She advanced to third on a sac bunt by Sumner and scored a play later when Tom singled. Tom advanced to second as Johnson fouled out to the right fielder but she would stay there as St. Ledger lined out to third.
The Bulldogs were able to put runners on first and third when Megan Wiggins earned a bunt single to lead off the bottom of the eighth. Wiggins then stole second before Schlopy was hit by a pitch for the second time in the game. With the bases loaded and no one out, Auger reached on a fielder's choice but Christina Reed was thrown out at home on the play. Brianna Hesson then flied out to center field, leaving the Pirates just one out away from realizing the upset. However, Kristin Schnake's first hit of the game proved decisive, as Schlopy and Wiggins crossed the plate to end the contest.
Swann pitched her 12th complete game of the season in the loss as her record now sits at 10-7. She gave up two runs on eight hits while walking four.
East Carolina returns to the ECU Softball Field this weekend for a three-game set with Southern Miss. The Pirates and Golden Eagles will play a doubleheader on Saturday while completing the series on Sunday with a single game. Saturday's doubleheader is scheduled for a 1 p.m. start.