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Hot-hitting Shockers eliminate ECU

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East Carolina head baseball coach Cliff Godwin meets with players on May 18, 2019, during the series against Memphis.

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The Daily Reflector

Friday, May 24, 2019

Wichita State upset top-seeded East Carolina during the first day of the American Athletic Conference baseball tournament, and it was the Shockers again on Friday who convincingly ended the Pirates’ stay in Clearwater, Fla., for the AAC tourney.

Wichita, the No. 8 seed that needed to win on the final day of the regular season to even make the tournament field, eliminated the Pirates with a 12-5 win. Wichita, which swung early and often for hard contact against Jake Kuchmaner, led 11-1 in the third inning and advanced to the semifinal round to face Connecticut.

The Pirates (43-15) now will wait out the weekend and they are still on track to be announced Sunday as an NCAA regional host, but seeding among the 16 regional hosts will not be announced until Monday with the full NCAA bracket. ECU is in the running to be a top-8 national seed, which would also ensure being a super regional host if ECU wins its regional.

But East Carolina couldn’t solve the Shockers (28-30) in Clearwater this week. WSU beat the Pirates 6-2 on Tuesday, which was followed by East Carolina eliminating Houston on Wednesday.

Kuchmaner, an all-conference first-teamer who entered with a 6-1 record and 2.12 ERA, was charged with eight runs (seven earned) on eight hits in two-plus innings.

Fifth-year senior Mason O’Brien led the offense for the victors, hitting a grand slam during the second inning and finishing 3-for-5 with two home runs, a double and six RBIs. Wichita State out-hit ECU, 15-14.

“It’s that time of year when you just lock in a little bit more and we want to play as long as we can in this tournament,” O’Brien said during a postgame interview on the American Digital Network. “We’ve known all year that we have a lot of talent and we have a really good team with a lot of tough breaks and things not going our way, but that’s part of baseball and I’m just glad things are coming together for us in this tournament.”

The score was 0-0 when Wichita’s five-run rally in the second inning began with nobody on base and two outs. Six straight batters reached safely, including three singles, O’Brien’s slam and a Paxton Wallace double.

Zach Barnes relieved Kuchmaner during the bottom of the third and he recorded one out while allowing three runs, leaving when it was 11-1 Shockers.

Turner Brown hit a solo home run for the Pirates. Starting designated hitter Jake Washer was 2-for-3.

Starter Liam Eddy struck out seven Pirates with no walks and yielded three runs in 6.1 innings for WSU, which has scored 25 total runs in its three tournament games. The Shockers faced three of the elite pitchers in the league in ECU’s Alec Burleson followed by Connecticut ace Mason Feole and then Kuchmaner.

ECU scored first against Wichita on Tuesday and it was 1-1 in the seventh inning before the Shockers posted a late flurry of runs.

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