ECU came into the AAC tournament as the clear-cut favorite to win the conference tournament after putting in the best regular season in conference history. Instead, that all went away in a hurry and the Pirates will have their backs against the wall for the remainder of the tournament.
Top-seeded ECU lost 6-2 on Tuesday against No. 8 seed Wichita State to fall into the loser’s bracket of the double-elimination tournament.
The Pirates now have to turn around and play on Wednesday against Houston, who lost the first game of the tournament against fourth-seeded UConn. The Pirates and the Cougars play at 3 p.m.
For a while, it began to feel like deja vu. Was this Tuesday, the first day of the conference tournament in Clearwater? Or was it two weekends ago in Wichita, Kansas?
It all started similar, with Wichita State starter Clayton McGinness rolling and the Pirate hitters unable to figure him out. This time, ECU got him out of the game as McGinness threw 6.1 innings instead of the complete game he threw previously. McGinness threw 106 pitches after throwing 110 last Thursday.
But he still pitched well, as ECU only managed five hits against him and one run in the first inning. Alec Burleson, 2-for-4 with the first inning RBI double to get ECU on the board first, and Brady Lloyd, 3-for-4, were the only Pirates to get much production at the plate.
McGinness didn’t face Bryant Packard in their regular season series, and they decided to mostly not pitch to him at all and rather deal with the no. 2 hitters behind him with Lane Hoover hurt. Packard was intentionally walked in back-to-back at-bats and finished 0-for-3. First-team All-AAC Spencer Brickhouse finished 0-for-4.
ECU didn’t start Jake Agnos or Jake Kuchmaner in an attempt to keep the rotation pitchers in their same rhythm and not pitch too soon after just throwing against Memphis over the weekend. Instead, Alec Burleson got the start on the mound. Burleson did his job on the mound, however, throwing six innings and giving up just one run.
Gavin Williams gave up one run in relief that made it 2-1 Wichita State for a while. But It was a four-run inning for the Shockers against Ryder Giles to break the game open and crush any hope ECU had of coming back. Brady Slavens hit a backbreaking three-run home run to take a 3-1 game and make it 6-1.
ECU scored one run in the first inning when Burleson doubled off the wall to score Spencer Brickhouse. McGinness threw 31 first-inning pitches and it seemed like he wouldn’t be nearly as effective as he was last time. From there, however, ECU never scored another run and managed just eight hits for the whole game.
Jake Washer led off the ninth inning with a solo home run and ECU managed to get the bases loaded for Brickhouse to potentially tie the game, but he grounded out to end the game.
It could have been worse for ECU, as Wichita State hit 3-for-16 with runners in scoring position. They had many more opportunities than the Pirates, who were just 0-for-8 in those situations.
Nobody needs to overreact and cancel their regional ticket requests just yet. This is the third straight year the No. 8 seed defeated the No. 1 seed in the AAC Tournament. This happens.
It is true that the conference tournament doesn’t mean as much when you had the best regular season in AAC history and your place as a regional host is secure.
It is also true that head coach Cliff Godwin would rather ECU play its best baseball going into the NCAA Tournament rather than rack up AAC tournament titles that are kind of meaningless in the big picture for a team that wants to go to Omaha.
The hope is that beginning tomorrow, ECU gets back to playing its best baseball because now is the right time.