East Carolina jumped out to a 3-0 lead and then held off a furious rally in the bottom of the ninth inning to take a 3-1 win over the University of Houston baseball team Friday during the opener of a Conference USA series at Cougar Field.
After scoring single runs in the fourth, sixth and seventh innings, the Pirates appeared to have the game under control before the Cougars mounted a rally. Senior third baseman Dustin Kingsbury - who started the 164th consecutive game of his career in the UH infield - started the rally after reaching on a one-out infield error.
The Houston native moved to second following Josh Stirneman's infield single, and both runners advanced a base when Luis Flores drew a two-out walk to load the bases. Felix Fanaselle then forced in the Cougars' lone run of the game, drawing a walk off ECU closer Shane Mathews. But Mathews struck out the final Cougar batter to end both the rally and the game.
The Cougars mounted similar threats earlier in the game, putting two runners on base in the sixth and eighth innings. But ECU starter T.J. Hose induced a popout and strikeout to end the first threat, while reliever Jason Neitz struck out a batter to end the rally in the latter inning.
Hose collected the win and improved to 6-4 after allowing only four hits and a walk with five strikeouts in 7.2 shutout innings. Mathews picked up his team-leading 11th save despite allowing an unearned run off a hit and two walks in 0.2 innings.
Ryan Lormand went 2-for-4 to lead the Cougar offense, which was outhit 7-5.
UH starter Aaron Brown collected the loss and fell to 6-4 after giving up three runs (two earned) off five hits and three walks with a pair of strikeouts in seven innings.
Ryan Tousley batted 2-for-3 with a run and RBI in the winning effort.
With the loss, the Cougars fell to 25-20 overall, 10-6 in C-USA games, while East Carolina improved to 30-15, 8-7 in C-USA games.
The Pirates struck for the game's first run in the fourth inning. Ryan Tousley led off with a walk and moved into scoring position following Stephen Batts' single through the right side. After moving to third on a fielder's choice, Tousley gave the Pirates a 1-0 advantage after scoring on Corey Kemp's RBI-single through the right side.
In the sixth inning, the Pirates pushed their lead to 2-0 when Tousley's RBI-single up the middle past a drawn-infield scored Wood from third base.
One inning later, pinch runner David Forbes scored from third base on a wild pitch to give the Pirates a 3-0 lead.
The series continues at 8 p.m., Saturday before wrapping up at 1p.m., Sunday.