CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – Brandon Downes belted a pair of solo home runs lifting top-ranked Virginia (4-1) to a 3-2 opening series win over East Carolina (3-2) Friday afternoon at Davenport Field.
Downes, who recorded two of UVA’s six hits, smacked the would-be game-winning homer to start the sixth pushing his season total to three in five games.
UVA starter Nathan Kirby (2-0) picked up the win allowing a pair of runs (both earned) on four hits with two walks and three strikeouts in 6.1 innings before turning the ball over to the Cavalier bullpen. Whit Mayberry and Nick Howard combined to toss 2.2 perfect innings of relief with Howard posting his first save of the season.
Junior Jeff Hoffman (0-1) suffered the loss despite another quality start where he surrendered three runs (all earned) on five hits with three walks and six punch-outs in 6.2 frames. The right-hander fanned at least one batter in five innings and punched out two in the bottom of the fifth. Fellow upperclassman Ryan Williams made his third appearance in relief giving up a hit in 1.1 innings.
Downes gave UVA an early 1-0 lead when he led off the bottom of the second sending a 1-0 offering from Hoffman over the left field wall.
ECU broke through in the top half of the third scoring a pair of runs with the bases loaded for a 2-1 advantage. Junior Reid Love led off with a single through the right side, and landed on third after sophomore Travis Watkins’ sac bunt and freshman Kirk Morgan’s ground out to back to the mound.
Sophomore Garrett Brooks (walk) and senior Drew Reynolds (hit by pitch) loaded the bases for senior Zach Houchins, who reached on an infield single scoring Love and Brooks to put ECU ahead.
The Cavaliers pushed across a two-out run in the bottom half of the stanza thanks Mike Papi’s second extra base hit of the season, knotting the game at two-all. After Morgan turned the first two Pirate double plays, Branden Cogswell drew a two-out walk and advanced to second on a wild pitch. Papi battled to a full count before delivering a double to left center that scored Cogswell with ease.
With a 3-2 lead, the Cavalier hurlers settled down retiring the final 15 Pirate hitters after Kirby issued an opening frame free pass to Watkins in the fifth.
Houchins (seven games) and sophomore Luke Lowery (four) extended their current hitting streaks on the afternoon, while Houchins also extended his streak of reaching base safely to 23 games dating back to last season.
ECU and Virginia will continue the three-game series Saturday afternoon when the two teams meet in game two at 1 p.m. (EST).