HOUSTON, Texas - Justin Montemayor collected a game-high four hits and drove in a pair of runs, while Austin Pruitt tossed a complete game lifting sixth-seed Houston to a 9-4 victory over three-seed East Carolina Thursday afternoon in the Conference USA Championship at Reckling Park.
Pruitt gave up four consecutive hits and his defense committed an error to give East Carolina a 3-0 lead in the first inning. From there, however, the Cougar right-hander settled down and allowed just one run the rest of the way in a complete-game effort. Offensively, Houston came alive with four runs in the third, plated two more in both in the sixth and seventh innings, and another in the top of the ninth to come away with the victory.
With the win, the Cougars improved to 36-20 on the year and 1-0 in pod play. It was Houston's sixth-consecutive win over East Carolina in C-USA post-season play dating back to 2005. The Pirates, meanwhile, fell to 30-25 on the season and 0-1 in pod action.
Montemayor, the 2013 C-USA Freshman of the Year, led the 13-hit Cougar attack by going 4-for-4 with a double, two RBI and a run scored. He was one of four Houston batters to post multiple-hit contests as second baseman Josh Vidales, designated hitter Jacob Campbell and centerfielder Landon Appling had two hits apiece.
The game, however, belonged to Pruitt (10-5). After giving up a three-spot in the first, he faced the minimum in three of his next eight innings and none of the Pirates' 12 hits went for extra bases.
Following a scoreless top of the first, East Carolina drew first blood as second baseman Bryan Bass, designated hitter Drew Reynolds and third baseman Zach Houchins hit consecutive singles to set up a two-run single to right off the bat of first baseman Chase McDonald in the ensuing at-bat to give the Pirates a 2-0 lead. Houchins scored on an error later in the inning, but that would be all offensively for the Pirates until they plated their only other run in the sixth.
East Carolina righty Jeff Hoffman (6-7) was able to pitch his way around leadoff singles in each of the first two frames, but Houston set the tone for the rest of the game in the third. Campbell opened what proved to be the winning inning with a single to right. Third baseman Jonathan Davis followed with a walk, the runners advanced 90 feet on a sacrifice bunt by Appling and Vidales drove in the Cougars' first run with a single to center.
Houston tied the game during the next plate appearance when outfielder Kyle Survance laid down a safety squeeze to bring home Davis, and reached safely as Houchins' tried to cut down the runner at the plate. His scoop toss home got away from East Carolina catcher Travis Watkins, however, and that allowed both Vidales and Survance to move into scoring position. Two hitters later, Montemayor made the miscue hurt with a two-run double down the right field line to give Houston a 4-3 lead it would not relinquish.
After a pair of scoreless frames, the Cougars padded their lead when left fielder Michael Pyeatt scored on a wild pitch and Montemayor touched the home on a fielders' choice groundout by Vidales. East Carolina cut the deficit to 6-4 in the home half of the frame courtesy of an RBI-single off the bat of left fielder Chris Gosik, but Houston got that run back plus another in the seventh on a run-scoring fielders' choice by Pyeatt and an RBI-single by Davis. Campbell closed out the scoring in the top of the ninth when he was plunked by a pitch, moved to second on a ground ball and came home on an RBI-single to center by Appling.
Reynolds and Houchins paced the Pirates with three hits each while Bass had two safeties in five at-bats. Bass extended his hit streak to nine games and Reynolds posted his team-best 20th multiple-hit contest. Hoffman was saddled with the loss after giving up six runs on nine hits and two walks while striking out three in a 5.1-inning effort.
East Carolina will open day three of the C-USA Championship on Friday when it takes on No. 7 seed Tulane (28-28, 0-1) at 12 noon (ET). Houston will play the next game when the Cougars square off against second-seed Southern Miss (29-25, 1-0) with first pitch slated for 4 p.m. (ET).