GREENVILLE, N.C. — South Carolina was close to ending East Carolina’s season Monday night in the Greenville Regional.
But the Gamecocks couldn’t get Devin Harris out when it counted — and in a stunning turn of events, Harris ended their season.
The East Carolina right fielder tied the game with a massive three-run homer in the ninth inning and then won it with an RBI single in the 10th as the Pirates pulled out a 10-9 victory and a berth in the Super Regionals.
The Pirates (46-18) next travel to Chapel Hill to face in-state nemesis North Carolina; the winner of that best-of-three series advances to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb. USC (40-23), which led 6-0 after four innings, sees its season end with an agonizing loss.
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“They have outstanding talent, and they came through in a big way tonight,” USC coach Ray Tanner said. “They have a great club, and it wasn’t just this weekend. They’ve been doing it all year. It’s tough to get 27 outs.”
The Gamecocks had 24 outs when senior left-hander Alex Farotto walked Brandon Henderson to lead off the bottom of the ninth. Tanner brought in senior right-hander Curtis Johnson to hold the 9-6 lead, but he immediately walked Dustin Harrington.
Harris followed by launching a pitch deep into the night over the left-field fence to tie the game and send the purple-and-gold clad crowd of 5,047 at Clark-LeClair Stadium into a frenzy.
“I’ve hit a few home runs, but I’d say that’s by far the biggest I’ve ever hit,” Harris said. “He got up 0-1, so I anticipated he was going to come off-speed. He hung the slider a little bit, and I made good contact.”
Tanner had nothing but praise for the No. 7 hitter in the ECU lineup, especially after Harris, who had four hits and five RBIs, duplicated his heroics in the 10th by lining a two-out single to center off ace Sam Dyson, who was brought in exclusively to face him. Center fielder Whit Merrifield’s throw was late to the plate to nail Kyle Roller, who had doubled off Johnson (2-1) to start the winning rally.
“Obviously, his last two at-bats were huge,” Tanner said. “He’s a great talent and a great player.”
Jackie Bradley’s two-run homer in the eighth gave the Gamecocks a three-run cushion that looked to seal the victory. USC led the entire game, but it didn’t build on that lead when it left the bases loaded in the ninth on Nick Ebert’s strikeout.
“We put some pressure on them, but they had the best team tonight,” Tanner said. “We got in a better position early on, but (ECU reliever) Seth Simmons kept us in check. He gave up a two-run home run, but he kept us in check. We weren’t able to finish it off.”
When USC first got into the Pirates’ bullpen, things started to happen offensively.
In the third inning, after starter Patrick Somers gave up a walk and a single, the Pirates replaced him with opening-night starter Chris Heston. He allowed an RBI double to Parker Bangs, a sacrifice fly to Andrew Crisp, an RBI single to Bobby Haney and a two-homer to Scott Wingo as the Gamecocks took a 6-0 lead.
But the ECU pitchers began to slow the Gamecocks after that. Mike Wright (1-2) picked up the win with 1Ð innings of scoreless relief.
“Everybody understood we were a little depleted coming into the game,” East Carolina coach Billy Godwin said. “We were trying to piece together our staff. I still felt that down 6-0 we were still in the game. They just pitched on heart and adrenaline.”
The Pirates finally got to starter Jay Brown in the fifth inning when Brandon Wood launched a long two-run homer to left to cut the lead to 6-2. Bangs replaced Brown with two outs in the fifth. He gave up a pair of runs in the sixth on Jared Avchen’s RBI double and Trent Whitehead’s sacrifice fly to cut the lead to 7-4. Those runs nullified the RBI single by Justin Dalles in the top of the frame.
“The way those guys swing the bat, they’re always going to be in it,” said Merrifield, who led USC’s 16-hit attack with four hits.
The Pirates crept into the game with two more runs in the seventh. Farotto replaced Bangs after a leadoff single and hit a batter before allowing RBI singles to Harrington and Harris. That cut the USC lead to 7-6.
“I thought the further we got into their bullpen, the better chance we had,” Henderson said.
But the Gamecocks, who lost in the Raleigh Regional to N.C. State last season, refused to let this latest heart-breaking loss ruin the way they felt about their season. The Pirates had never defeated USC in seven postseason games until winning back-to-back game Sunday and Monday.
“It doesn’t feel good, but I’m proud of the way our team played,” left fielder DeAngelo Mack said. “We battled all the way through the season. I’m just proud of the way our guys came out and played.”