For as much as NC State ran ECU off of the football field back with its 58-3 win back in December in Raleigh, ECU got every bit of it back at Clark-LeClair Stadium on Sunday by eliminating its in-state rival.
Top-seeded ECU dominated NC State 9-2 in Sunday’s elimination game thanks to a herculean performance from AAC Pitcher-of-the-Year Jake Agnos, as well as a sixth-run third inning. Agnos threw eight innings, struck out eight hitters and his only blemishes of the game being a solo home run in the first and ninth innings.
The Pirates now take on the winner of Campbell-Quinnipiac at 8 p.m. later Sunday night. The Wolfpack season ends after a disappointing showing at the Greenville Regional, going 0-2.
“I think today’s game is a representation of the team we are this year. We’ve got a lot of tough guys,” Agnos said.
It was the fifthteenth consecutive start for Agnos with at least six strikeouts, and he tied the AAC career strikeout record when he got his 290th strikeout in the eighth inning. Catcher Jake Washer led ECU at the plate going 2-for-3 with a home run and three RBI.
Agnos throwing eight innings, laboring through 127 pitches to do so, was vital to the Pirates because of how much the bullpen was taxed during Saturday’s 5-4 loss to Quinnipiac when Jake Kuchmaner only went 1.1 innings in his start. The Pirates only had to use Cam Colmore to throw the ninth inning and was able to save all other relievers.
“I can’t say enough about Jake Agnos. For Jake to go out there for eight innings and do what he did with our bullpen taxed from last night, it was huge,” ECU head coach Cliff Godwin said. “I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a kid pitch that well in a circumstance like that ever in my coaching career. I’ve seen opposing pitchers do it to teams I’ve coached, but I’ve never had a guy like Jake do it in front of a crowd like that.”
While Agnos carried the pitching staff on his back on the mound, the offense showed up and did its part to support him. Down 1-0, ECU had runners on the corners with one out in the third inning, and Alec Burleson grounded into what should have been a double play. He instead beat out the throw, allowing the run to score to tie the game at 1-1.
That lapse in execution signaled the turn of the game and the floodgates opened.
Spencer Brickhouse walked, Washer lined an RBI single, followed by another RBI single from Chandler Jenkins to make it 3-1. Wolfpack head coach Elliot Avent then made a fatal decision to take out starter Jason Parker and go to the bullpen for a lefty-on-lefty matchup. The first reliever comes out and on the first pitch gives up two runs as Brady Lloyd reached third on an outfield error.
Parker had struck out five in his 2.1 innings and gave up two runs before coming out. The two relief pitchers following him gave up three more runs while getting just one out. Michael Bienlien was the reliever who threw just one pitch before coming right back out. Avent, desperately trying to salvage the game, brought in Nick Swiney, who threw 50 pitches on Friday against Campbell and is their best reliever.
Swiney immediately threw a wild pitch that allowed Lloyd to score from third and make it 6-1 ECU. That finally capped a six-run third inning for ECU, with all runs coming with two outs.
“To be able to capitalize in that inning was crucial,” Washer said.
Washer gave a couple of insurance runs with his two-run home run in the seventh inning to make it 8-1 ECU. Burleson capped the Pirates scoring with an RBI single to make it 9-1 in the eighth inning.
ECU as a team went 11-for-35 overall and 8-for-20 with runners on base. State 4-for-29 overall and 0-for-6 with runners on base. State star shortstop Will Wilson didn’t record a hit for the tournament and only reached base one time on a walk.
Godwin got choked up talking about the crowd support at Clark-LeClair over the past two games. He took a long time to collect himself before saying he appreciates the support.
“I get chills just talking about it.”
ECU outfielder Bryant Packard went 0-for-3 with three strikeouts and was pulled from the game earlier. Godwin said his leg was bothering him and it’s unsure if he plays later tonight.
The Pirates will go with Tyler Smith on the mound tonight, looking to advance to Monday as one of the final two teams left.
“We didn’t come into this tournament to go 1-1,” Agnos said. “Yeah it was a big win, but we’ve got to come out with the same punch that we had. We’re going to get the other team’s best blow if it’s Campbell or Quinnipiac. Yeah, this win’s good, but we didn’t come here to beat NC State. We’re never satisfied. And now it’s postseason, so it’s good to go.”