Desperation baseball tourney runs end in disappointment

ECU, UNCW, Duke and Charlotte all came close in their respective conference events, but failed to deliver the championships they needed to earn a bid in next weeks NCAA tournament

ECU photo—ECU photo
Freshman Jake Agnos threw seven shutout innings against UCF on Saturday to pitch ECU into the championship game of the American Athletic Conference tournament

It was a disappointing weekend for state college baseball teams looking make amends for underachieving regular seasons and returning to the NCAA tournament. East Carolina, UNC Wilmington and Duke all needed to win their respective conference tournaments and the automatic bids that go with them to sneak into the NCAA’s field of 64 and earn an opportunity at advancing deeper into the tournament than they did a year ago. All three gave it a good shot. In the end, all three fell short of their goal. ECU’s loss to Houston was especially painful because it came just one win from redemption in a winner-take-all championship game of the American Athletic Conference event in Clearwater, Fla. Coach Cliff Godwin’s were picked to win the AAC and were ranked as high as No. 6 nationally in one preseason poll before the bottom dropped out at midseason. A rash of injuries and a 10-game losing streak to start the conference season left the Pirates seeded eighth in their eight-team tournament and a longshot at best to get back to an NCAA Super Regional. But ECU took advantage of the chance to wipe the slate clean and start over fresh in the postseason by routing top-seeded Central Florida 14-3 on Tuesday behind a homer and three RBI from Charlie Yorgen before rallying for three runs in the bottom of the ninth to beat South Florida 5-4 on a perfectly executed suicide squeeze bunt by pinch-hitter Kirk Morgan. The Pirates (32-28) then used a standout pitching performance from freshman Jake Agnos and homers from fellow rookie Spencer Brickhouse and senior Travis Watkins to blank UCF 4-0 and advance to the championship round. Despite the momentum and ace Evan Kruczynski on the mound, ECU’s unlikely run came to an end Sunday with a 6-0 loss to the second-seeded Cougars. UNCW (30-29) had a similarly anticlimactic experience in the championship round of the Colonial Athletic Association tournament. Unlike the Pirates, the Seahawks were able to recover from a dismal start to the season by earning the No. 2 seed in their event. They appeared poised to return to the NCAA tournament, where they advanced to a regional final a year ago after a routine opening round win against William & Mary on Thursday and a strong start against Delaware a day later. But the Blue Hens rallied for eight runs in the sixth inning for a 14-8 win that sent coach Mark Scalf’s Seahawks into the loser’s bracket. UNCW bounced back bounced back Saturday with a 10-1 win against top-seeded Northeastern in a game that saw pitcher Logan Beehler allow just two hits over eight innings behind an offense that saw Kennard McDowell homer and five teammates collect two or more hits. The victory set up a rematch with Delaware, but because of the double elimination format of the tournament, the Seahawks would have had to have beaten the Blue Hens twice to earn the league’s automatic NCAA bid. They never got past the first game, though. In fact, they barely got past the first inning after surrendering nine runs in the opening frame en route to a season-ending 10-3 loss. Duke, meanwhile, advanced to the semifinals of the ACC tournament in Louisville by beating Clemson and Virginia in pool play. The Blue Devils (30-28) got 3⅓ innings of scoreless relief and a tie-breaking eighth-inning double by Michael Smicklas in their 6-3 win against the Tigers before advancing into the single-elimination semifinals with a 4-3 victory against the Cavaliers on a game-tying single by Max Miller and Chris Proctor’s go-ahead double in the sixth. That’s where their bid to earn a second straight NCAA tournament ended, as Florida State used six extra base hits to pound out a 5-1 victory on Saturday. The Seminoles went on to win the tournament by beating North Carolina 7-3 in the championship game. Though the result was a downer for the second-seeded Tar Heels, who carried a 3-2 lead into the eighth before FSU burned All-ACC closer Josh Hiatt for five unanswered runs, UNC still came away a winner when it was one of 16 teams nationally — and five from the ACC — selected to host an NCAA regional next week. Wake Forest, which was eliminated in pool play after beating Georgia Tech and losing to Miami, will also host a regional. UNC’s championship game loss provided an unexpected ending to an otherwise dominating tournament performance that saw coach Mike Fox’s team score double-digit runs in each of its first three games. Logan Warmoth had four hits in an opening round 10-0 victory against Boston College that was halted af