Getting the clutch two out ninth inning hit proved to be the difference in the start of an important Conference USA series Friday in Houston.
East Carolina topped Rice 3-2 to take over first place in C-USA by percentage points. The teams meet two more times at Reckling Park Saturday and Sunday. Both games start at noon.
Starters Zach Lemond and Jeff Hoffman did their jobs in the opener, each giving up one run. Lemond, who has filled in admirably as the No. 1 starter for the injured Jordan Stephens, gave up just four singles. Hoffman went 8 innings, giving up seven hit and striking out seven.
The game was notched at 1 going into the ninth inning. ECU’s Charlie Yorgen was hit by a Matt Ditman pitch to begin the frame. It was the third time Ditman hit a batter this season, but that statistic would jump to four rather quickly.
Ditman, who has the third lowest ERA on the team at 1.69, proceeded to also hit Eric Tyler. The bases became loaded with one out on a Hunter Allen single. That brought up leadoff man Dylan Brown. Ditman got him to pop up in the infield for the second out.
Drew Reynolds stepped in already with two hits in the game. He made it three when he lined a single up the middle to score Yorgen and Tyler.
Down 3-1, Rice immediately got two runners on in the bottom of the ninth on singles from Shane Hoelscher and Connor Teykl. Michael Aquino did his job, moving the runners to third and second. Ford Stainback grounded out, but Hoelscher scored on the play and Teykl moved to third.
No. 9 hitter Bake Fox stepped to the plate. Fox had scored Rice’s first run of the game in the fifth inning. His single that inning was only his second hit of the season. On this at-bat, Fox hit a chopper that pitcher Ryan Williams snared and threw to first for the final out.
The win marked ECU’s (18-12) first series opening victory against Rice since 2006. ECU and UAB are now 7-3 in the conference with Rice (21-11) technically in third place at 9-4 (winning percentage .692).
Fox (6-0, 1.14) will be the starter in today’s game for Rice. Southpaw Reid Love (2-1, 2.31 ERA) will get the start for the Pirates.
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