The Conference USA Baseball Tournament found a new home in 2011 as the four-day event was moved to a stationary site in Pearl, Miss., at Trustmark Park, home of the Mississippi Braves. All three of ECU's games in the eight-team event were exciting as the Pirates posted a 2-1 record and narrowly missed playing in the championship game.
After squandering a two-run lead in the top of the ninth inning during game one of the C-USA Tournament and eventually falling to Houston, 8-5, the Pirates were back at it again on Thursday, May 26 playing Tulane for the fourth time in the last eight days. The final week of the 2011 regular season saw the Pirates complete its first-ever series sweep of the Green Wave winning a thriller inside Turchin Stadium in 11 innings.
In an elimination game of sorts for both clubs after suffering losses on the opening day of the tournament, the two teams met for the fourth time in 2011 on the diamond. It was a game that featured outstanding pitching, high drama and a pair of extra innings. And while Tulane might look back and remember it as a game of missed opportunities, ECU will recall a clutch, two-run double by Corey Thompson as the Pirates defeated the Green Wave 4-2 in 11 innings.
With the score knotted at 2-2 with two on and one away in the top of what proved to be the final frame, Thompson ripped a first-pitch offering from Green Wave reliever Nick Pepitone into the gap in left centerfield to provide the winning margin. Mike Ussery and Philip Clark both pushed singles through the left side with one out in the top of the 11th setting up Thompson's second and third RBI of the night.
Tulane had a chance to potentially tie things up in the home half of the inning with a pair of runners in scoring position and only one out, but ECU reliever Kevin Brant pitched his way out of the jam by retiring the next two men he faced to spark the Pirates' celebration.
Brandt (7-3) picked up the win out of the bullpen after giving up just one run on three hits and a trio of walks while fanning three in 4.1 innings of relief. He came on for starter Mike Wright, who gave up a run on five hits and two walks while striking out four in 6.2 solid frames.
Thompson went 3-for-6 in the ballgame with three RBI, and was one of two Pirates to post three hits on the night, as Trent Whitehead was 3-for-5.
While both teams stranded 12 runners on the base paths, it was the Green Wave's lost scoring opportunities that made the difference in the game as Tulane was just 6-for-22 with runners on base and 3-for-14 in RBI situations. Two-thirds of Tulane's dozen stranded runners were in scoring position, including a combined five over the final three innings.
Lost in the defeat were stellar pitching performances by both Pepitone and starter David Napoli. Napoli went six-plus for the Green Wave, allowing a pair of runs on four hits and three walks while striking out five. Despite fanning a pair in 4.1 innings out of the pen, Pepitone (4-2) was saddled with the loss after allowing two runs on eight hits during his time on the hill. D.J. Ponder went the final two-thirds for Tulane, retiring the only batter he faced on a double play.
ECU drew first blood in the third inning when Ussery opened the inning with a walk, advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Clark, and came around to score on an RBI-single through the right side by Thompson.
Tulane came right back an inning later as Brandon Boudreaux roped a leadoff double to left and scored on the ensuing at-bat when Jeremy Schaffer dribbled a run-scoring single to left central to tie things up at 1-all.
Following a pair of scoreless frames, ECU reclaimed the lead in the seventh. Ben Fultz led off the inning with a walk to chase Napoli from the game, but after an infield pop-up and a single by Jack Reinheimer, Ussery made it 2-1 with an RBI-groundout to second.
Brandt made the lead hold up until the bottom of the ninth when Tulane's Cody Robinson hammered a leadoff triple to right and scored one hitter later when Matt Ryan roped an RBI-single to right center to make it 2-all.
The Green Wave had a chance to end the game in regulation as Quinn Pippin moved Ryan to second with a sacrifice bunt for the first out of the frame, but Brandt wiggled off the hook by getting Garrett Cannizaro to line out to right and Brennan Middleton to fly out to center.
After both teams left the bases loaded in a scoreless 10th and Thompson delivered the big blow in the top of the 11th, Tulane made things interesting in the bottom of the inning as Pippin was plunked and Cannizaro walked to start the frame and Middleton followed with a sacrifice bunt to move the duo into scoring position. Brandt, however, was once again up to the task for the Pirates and struck out Bowen Woodson looking and getting a fly ball to right off the bat of pinch hitter Gunner Wright to thwart the rally and end the ballgame.
Top 11 Moments of the 2011 Baseball Season
5. Corey Thompson's two RBI double lifts ECU past Tulane at C-USA Tournament (May 26, 2011)
6. Seth Maness' complete game shutout against Pepperdine (Mar. 4, 2011)
7. Austin Homan becomes first two-time recipient of the honorary No. 23 jersey
8. Kevin Brandt strikes out 12 against Rutgers (Mar. 20, 2011)
9. Zach Wright's three game-winning home runs
10. ECU scores 20 runs on 20 hits against UNCW (Mar. 29, 2011)
11. Seth Simmons becomes ECU's all-time saves leader (Mar. 19, 2011)