May 26, 2002
In their first year as a member of Conference USA and behind a head coach who was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease at the start of the season, the East Carolina Pirates had destiny on their side both on the mound and in the field as pitchers Dave Penny and Neal Sears combined to shut down the University of Houston offense, 4-0, en route to claiming the 2002 C-USA Baseball Tournament on Sunday (May 26) afternoon at Grainger Stadium in Kinston, N.C.
The No.1-seed Cougars (44-15) had cruised to this year's championship game for the fourth time in the last six years game by defeating Saint Louis (5-0), Southern Miss (7-1) and Tulane (7-2) in their first three games of the annual tournament.
Despite striking first in each of their previous three tournament games and outscoring their opponents 19-3, the Cougars squandered ample scoring opportunities against the Pirates, grounding into two double plays with the bases loaded in both the third and fourth innings while leaving a combined 10 men on base.
Starter Danny Zell, who combined with four other Cougar hurlers to shut out the Saint Louis Billikens in the opening game of the tournament on May 21, turned in another stellar performance on the mound for the Cougars. He had a perfect game through four innings, including five strikeouts, and did not allow a Pirate base runner until surrendering a two-out walk to Clayton McCullough in the bottom of the fifth.
Following McCullough's walk, East Carolina's Luke Cherry singled to left-center, and Ryan Jones slapped East Carolina's second single of the game to right to score McCullough for the game's first run.
The Cougars continued to plug away and threatened to tie the game in the top of the sixth, putting runners on the corners with one out. Designated hitter Thanos Papavasiliou opened the inning with a double to the left-center gap and one out later, Sam Mitchell singled to left before Penny got both Hyung Cho and Cameron Blair to fly out and end the rally.
East Carolina built upon their 1-0 lead with three runs in the bottom of the eighth. After Houston reliever Nathan Mitchell, who had come in to relieve Zell in the fifth, hit Cherry to lead off the inning, Jones sailed a 1-2 pitch over the right field fence for a two-run home run, and a hit and two walks later, Pirate pinch hitter Daniel Vick singled to center to bring East Carolina's fourth and final run across the plate.
Zell (7-1) suffered the loss for Houston, his first of the year, after allowing just one earned run on two hits in 4.2 innings of work. East Carolina's Penny improved his season mark to 8-3 after shutting down the Cougars on seven hits in six solid innings, while Sears earned his fifth save of the year.
Papavasiliou and Mitchell each collected two hits for Houston.
Cougars Chris Snyder, who along with teammate Brett Cooley was among one of four players to belt two home runs in the tournament, outfielder Michael Bourn and infielder/relief pitcher Jesse Crain were each named to the All-Tournament Team.
Houston had entered this afternoon's game having won eleven straight games, including 10 straight against league opponents, and 11 of their last 13 games overall. Today marked the first time since a 4-0 loss at Rice on February 12 earlier this season - a string of 54 consecutive games - that the Cougars have been shut out.
Houston's overall season record now stands at 44-15, and its current .756 winning percentage remains the best in school history.