06/08/04 — ECU wins regional

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ECU wins regional

Published in Sports on June 8, 2004 1:57 PM

KINSTON -- Finally, there are 16 teams remaining in the NCAA Baseball Tournament.

And one of them is the East Carolina University Pirates.

On Monday afternoon at Grainger Stadium, East Carolina were finishing off the Kinston Regional after a first-day washout had pushed the schedule back a day. The Pirates were sitting on a 7-0 lead over UNC-Wilmington in the top of the ninth inning, with only one out between them and a trip to the NCAA Super Regional.

The Pirate faithful who turned out on a workday joined with the rest of the nation in waiting for that sixteenth team to win.

As Pirate closer Matt Bishop pitched to Aaron Smith, the fans clapped as they waited for the moment.

Then with a grounder to the first base and a quick step on the bag, Kinston erupted.

After a long weekend of baseball, Grainger Stadium was painted purple.

Greg Bunn started on the mound for the Pirates (51-11) and shut out the Seahawks on two hits en route to the victory in the championship game. A tired Wilmington squad played just 12 hours after winning their spot in Monday's game, and the Pirates closed them out decisively.

The ECU offense pulled away with a four-run sixth inning and slammed the door on the tired Seahawks. The Wilmington offense couldn't get anything going as Bunn commanded the strike zone and struck out 11 batters to tie his season high and take home the Most Outstanding Player award for the weekend.

Bunn also improved his undefeated record to 10-0.

"I don't think anyone two-hit us all year, and he did it in a big-game atmosphere," Wilmington coach Mark Scalf said of Bunn's performance. "I tip my hat to him."

"Bunn threw on both sides of the plate, and when you can do that, you're going to be effective," Smith said.

East Carolina got things going in the third inning when Billy Richardson struck out but reached base on a dropped third strike that would have been the third out. After Ryan Jones was hit by a pitch, Ryan Norwood hit an RBI single up the middle to score Richardson.

After Bunn struck out two of the three outs in the fourth, ECU came back up and picked up two runs off Richardson's two-run double. They took a 3-0 lead into the sixth inning and sealed it on another rally.

After a John Poppert solo home run, an error kept ECU alive as the first baseman botched a throw to the pitcher to get Jamie Paige aboard, and he scored on Jones' RBI single.

Pinch-hitter Jake Smith then slammed the door behind him with a two-run double.

For ECU, Jones was 2-for-2 with an RBI, Poppert was 2-for-4 with an RBI, and Norwood was 2-for-4 with an RBI.

The only three hits in the game for Wilmington were recorded by Lee McLean, who got two hits to go 2-for-4, and Tim Preston, who went 1-for-3.

Former Greene Central High star Matt Sutton was on the mound for the Seahawks and took the loss, giving up three runs on five hits and striking out four in the loss.

The All-Tournament Team for the regional featured six ECU Pirates -- Poppert, Norwood, Mark Minicozzi, Jones, Drew Costanzo, and Bunn -- and four Wilmington Seahawks -- McLean, Smith, Preston, and Matt Poulk. The only other player on the list was Tennessee's Luke Hochevar.

The game totals added to East Carolina's large offensive stats for the regional. In the three games the Pirates played, they rang up 32 hits, 26 runs, and four home runs. They trailed only once in the entire regional, and have a solid lineup going into their Super Regional match with South Carolina.

The loss for UNC-Wilmington ends their season at 40-23, but it has nothing to be ashamed of. With the victory over Tennessee, the Seahawks secured back-to-back 40-win seasons for the first time in school history.

Chip Grawey, a senior on the Seahawk team, said, "I think we're building a program year by year."

East Carolina coach Randy Mazey was confident in the victory.

"Winning gives you such a good feeling É I'm going to leave this tournament thinking that we're pretty hot one through nine. I'll be pretty confident with whoever steps to the plate. It's a good feeling."

Coach Scalf was supportive of the Pirates.

"I think they (ECU) have a got a chance to go into South Carolina and get after the Gamecocks pretty good, I believe."

Play in the Super Regional begins in Columbia, South Carolina on Friday.

UNC-Wilmington 000 000 000 -- 0 3 1

East Carolina 001 204 00x -- 7 9 1

Leading Hitters -- UNC-Wilmington -- Lee McLean 2-4, Tim Preston 1-3. East Carolina -- Ryan Jones 2-2 (RBI), Jake Smith 1-1 (2B, 2 RBI), John Poppert 2-4 (HR, RBI), Ryan Norwood 2-4 (RBI), Billy Richardson 1-4 (2B, 2 RBI), Jamie Paige 1-5

Winning Pitcher -- Greg Bunn (10-0). Losing Pitcher -- Matt Sutton (1-4).