The nature of a rivalry game is that a seemingly slow-moving game, with one team controlling all the action, can suddenly turn into a back-and-forth affair with neither team able to pull away until the end.
And so it was for the No. 11 ECU Pirates, who had to endure four ties and two lead changes, all after the fifth inning, to defeat in-state rival UNC-Wilmington 8-5 on Tuesday night at Clark-LeClair Stadium.
It was the final game in Greenville for UNCW head coach Mark Scalf, who gave ECU head coach Cliff Godwin his first ever coaching job. ECU honored Scalf before the game began.
“I knew it was going to be tough, we talked about it before the game. You can throw records out when it’s a rivalry and it was Coach Scalf’s last time coming here. They played really well,” Godwin told Hoist the Colours.
In the end, it was ECU (30-10) surviving the marathon (four hours, nine minutes to make the longest game of the season) game to earn its 11th straight home win and give UNCW (20-22) their sixth straight loss.
Despite the rivalry, which includes UNCW eliminating ECU from the Greenville regional last postseason, ECU completed the season sweep of the Seahawks.
Trey Benton pitched great for ECU as he went 3.1 scoreless innings. Benton gave up just four hits and struck out six batters. Godwin would call on five relievers to get through the rest of the game, with Sam Lanier (2.2), Evan Voliva (1.0), Cam Colmore (0.1), Zach Barnes (1.1) and Alec Burleson (0.1) finishing it off. Voliva and Colmore each gave up two runs and Lanier gave up one.
ECU got on the board first with a Spencer Brickhouse RBI groundout to make it 1-0 in the first inning. It was uneventful from there as the score remained 1-0 until the sixth inning.
Then the offense started coming and both teams went back and forth at each other for three consecutive innings, starting with the sixth as UNCW tied it at 1-1 in the inning.
The Pirates responded as a Seth Caddell two-run triple made it 3-1 ECU in the bottom half of the inning, but UNCW added two more runs in the seventh inning to make it 3-3 again. Caddell would finish 2-for-4 with two RBI.
“They were tough today and we played tough too. They had a lot of good at-bats with two strikes and got back in the count, and we didn’t make good pitches sometimes and they made us pay. It was a tough game,” Caddell told Hoist the Colours.
A Brickhouse RBI double in the bottom half of the inning made it 4-3 but, you guessed it, UNCW responded with two runs in the eighth to make it 5-4. Brickhouse finished 1-for-3 with two RBI.
A Packard RBI double made it 5-5 in the eighth, then UNCW unraveled and couldn’t respond any longer. A fielding error allowed two runs to score to make it 7-5 and Alec Burleson capped it off with an RBI single to make it 8-5.
“Really impressed by the resilience of our offense where the last three innings they scored and we scored in the bottom half,” Godwin told Hoist the Colours. “The game was in the eighth. They put up two runs and we answered with four, and that’s how we won the game.”
That’s when Burleson had to come on the mound in the ninth inning with two outs and UNCW had the tying run on base after he allowed a hit. Burleson would promptly get the last hitter out and get the save for ECU.
Packard led the offense by going 3-for-4 with three doubles and three runs scored.
“It shows the resilience of this team, we’re a really tough team. Especially against a team like that, they’re a great-coached team with Coach Scalf and you saw what they did to us in a regional last year. They’re a really hard-nosed team, but you can say we out-toughed them tonight,” Packard told Hoist the Colours.
The game was played Tuesday because it was pushed back from its earlier date in the season due to weather.
ECU has one more midweek game, a 6 p.m. road start against Old Dominion before an important weekend series with Tulane.