CHAPEL HILL, N.C— In the opening game of the NCAA Tournament, junior righthander Kyle Hansen provided St. John’s with 7 1/3 quality innings for the Red Storm, as they beat East Carolina 11-3 in the first game of the Chapel Hill Regional.
In a rematch of last year’s Charlottesville Regional, Hansen shut out the Pirates for the first six innings while the offense was firing on all cylinders—pounding out 16 hits, six of which went for extra bases. Hansen (5-5, 3.48) ran out of gas in the eighth, but got ahead of nearly every batter and commanded the strike zone very well. He gave up three runs on eight hits, while striking out eight and not issuing a walk.
“It sets us up very good," St. John's coach Ed Blankmeyer said. "They gave us the length of the game and Stephen (Rivera) did a nice job to come in and finish up.”
The top third of the Red Storm lineup went 7-fot-15 and drove in six runs. Dynamic senior shortstop Matt Wessinger had three hits and junior Jeremy Baltz, who owns schools records for career HR and RBI, had a double and a solo home run. East Carolina freshman righthander Jeff Hoffman (3-2, 3.92) took the loss as he was chased after getting one out in the fifth, giving four runs on up seven hits, four of which were doubles.
“It was good going back to how we were freshman year," Hansen said. "We’re probably one of the best offenses in the Big East and to come alive again is awesome. It’s easy to pitch with a lead.
“My goal as a pitcher is to get ahead early. If we get ahead early we can dominate the game. It affected the game a lot.”
Despite the power displayed by St. John's on Friday afternoon, they still manufactured runs the traditional way with four sacrifice hits. The Red Storm broke the game open in the fifth inning after a pair of seeing-eye singles by Wessinger and catcher Frank Schwindel gave the Red Storm a 5-0 lead thanks to a throwing error by Pirates left fielder John Wooten. The Pirates bullpen allowed eight of the nine inherited runners to score.
“Hitting is contagious with our team", Baltz said. "It’s good and it’s bad. You start seeing other guys succeed and it makes you want to succeed. Hopefully we can keep swinging the bats well and keep pitching well tomorrow.”
St. John’s will face the winner of No. 1 North Carolina (44-14) and No. 4 Cornell (31-15-1) on Saturday at 6 p.m. ET. East Carolina will play the loser of that game at 1 p.m.