Quinnipiac baseball upsets No. 10 East Carolina, wins first NCAA tournament game

Steven Pappas

The Bobcats celebrate their improbable 5-4 victory. Photos: Liz Flynn

In perhaps the biggest upset of the 2019 college baseball season, the Quinnipiac Bobcats defeated No. 10 overall and No. 1 Regional seeded East Carolina 5-4 on Saturday night. The game was played in in front of a crowd of 4,785, the highest attendance that Greenville has seen this season.

The Bobcats never trailed in this game, as they jumped out to an early 1-0 lead after a one-out double by Andre Marrero.  A wild pitch got Marrero over to third, and Ian Ostberg scored him on an RBI groundout with the defense playing back early in the game.

The next batter, Evan Vulgamore got himself into a good hitter’s count after falling behind 0-1. The junior third baseman saw three straight balls before depositing the 3-1 pitch into left field, giving the Bobcats a very early 2-0 lead.

The Pirates matched the Bobcats’ two runs in the top of the first inning with two of their own just minutes later. A leadoff single by Bryant Packard and a fielding error from Quinnipiac pitcher Chris Enns caused trouble just six pitches into Enns’s outing.

Alec Burleson, the Pirates’ best hitter, promptly singled, cutting the Bobcats lead to 2-1.

Things got a little crazy after that, after a rundown held up long enough to let Turner Brown score from third and tie the game. Enns pitched the rest of the inning scoreless, and got out of jams the rest of the day, keeping a Pirates offense that was hitting .294 at bay for most of his outing.

Enns kept his poise after the wild first inning. He finished with a solid 6 2/3 innings pitched, allowing three runs (one earned) and six strikeouts to go with just one walk.
Photos: Liz Flynn

Despite the early chaos, John Delaney’s squad was unfazed.

“We got to this point because of the process we stayed with, and what we’ve built off,” Delaney said. “Let’s not change what we do, and let’s not change who we are.”

To that point, what the Bobcats do best is hit, and that’s exactly what they did Saturday. Every single hitter recorded at least one hit, including three hits in the second inning that gave the Bobcats the lead back. Dylan Lutz, the ninth hitter in the lineup, laced a double down the right field line, scoring Kevin Huscher and making it a 3-2 ballgame.

After the Pirates tied the game in the fourth with a looping single into center field by Thomas Francisco, both teams traded momentum-shifting defensive plays in the sixth inning.

In the top half of the frame, East Carolina right fielder Alec Burleson cut down Evan Vulgamore at the plate looking to give the Bobcats the 4-3 lead back on a sacrifice fly, keeping the score tied. Then, the Pirates threatened in the bottom half of the inning with a leadoff double by Jake Washer.

Brady Lloyd followed with a single through the first and second base hole, but this time it was the Bobcats’ right fielder, Liam Scafariello, who charged hard came up with the big throw, almost identically to Burleson’s throw in the last half. Scafariello’s throw beat Washer, and kept the game tied at three.

After Anthony Cruz walked to start out the seventh inning, it was Scafariello who provided the game’s ultimate turning point with a mammoth home run to left field on a 3-0 count. Scafariello said after the game that the feeling of that swing was “an indescribable feeling. It’s something I’ll never forget.”

Scafariello hit the game-winning home run that sent the Bobcats to their first NCAA tournament win. Photo: Liz Flynn

East Carolina didn’t go down easily, though. A single by Packard ended Enns’s night, and Colin Donnelly entered the game with a runner on and two outs. After surrendering a walk to the first man he faced, putting the tying run on base, Donnelly dug deep and got Burleson to fly out to center field on the first pitch, keeping the lead.

Although Donnelly said after the game that he had been heckled by the Pirates’ fans while warming up, he was able to lock in on the mound.

“I don’t really hear much when I’m on the mound, it’s just what’s in between the lines for me,” Donnelly said.

The Bobcats had a chance to add some insurance runs in the eighth inning, loading the bases with no outs. Dual right fielder-pitcher Alec Burleson was called in to get out of the jam, and he did just that, striking out the side on 10 pitches. The Pirates’ two way stud sent a jolt of energy through the almost 5,000 fans in attendance and sparked the Pirates in the bottom half of the frame.

Bryson Worrell came off the bench and delivered, sending a pinch-hit home run into “The Jungle” in left field to get the Pirates to within one run.

Much like Enns though, the home run was Donnelly’s only blemish. He escaped the eighth inning with no further damage, and closed out the game in the ninth with the tying run in scoring position, getting Burleson to ground out to Lutz at second. The out capped off a Bobcats 5-4 victory, one of the most improbable wins this season in all of college baseball.

Donnelly earned his first save of the year over 2.1 innings of one-run ball.
Photos: Liz Flynn

Donnelly, who earned his first save of the season, said it best after the game.

“I hope it’s not a once in a lifetime opportunity but you’ve got to treat it like it is. These are moments you’re going to remember.”

The Bobcats will have a chance to make more memories at 4 p.m. Sunday vs. Campbell University, with a ticket to the Regional Final on the line.