CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Purdue head coach Mike Wasikowski said his team always played with a good attitude during the second half of the season, even when they were trailing. On Friday night, however, the Boilermakers succumbed to pressure.
No. 3 seed Houston defeated No. 2 seed Purdue, 9-1, on Friday in the second game of the NCAA Chapel Hill Regional. Houston starting pitcher Aaron Fletcher threw a complete game, leading his team to the emphatic, eight-run victory.
“Their (Houston’s) pitcher, Fletcher, was outstanding,” Wasikowski said. “He kept the ball down in the zone. Threw three pitches for strikes consistently all night long and had total command of the game, and I tip my hat to that young man.”
Purdue opened the scoring in the third inning, when shortstop Harry Shipley hit a single up the middle with runners on second and third. Alec Olund easily scored from third, giving Purdue a 1-0 lead. However, Houston second baseman Connor Hollis miraculously got a glove on the ball just on the edge of the outfield grass and was able to throw out Evan Warden at home, keeping Houston’s deficit at one.
“When I got into situations where I started to get runners on and things like that, the defense really helped out,” Fletcher said.
The Cougars responded in the fifth inning, taking a 2-1 lead. Cooper Coldiron kicked off the inning with a leadoff double before Landon Etzel hit a single to center field, scoring Coldiron and tying the game. Later in the inning, Etzel scored on a sacrifice fly after stealing second and advancing to third on a groundout.
In the next inning, Houston tacked on two more runs. With runners on first and second, Joe Davis hit a 2-2 pitch to the left-center field gap, scoring both runners on a double and giving Houston a 4-1 lead.
The Cougars tacked on another run in the eighth and then opened the ninth inning with their sixth run of the game. Later that same inning, Houston continued to further distance itself from Purdue. With runners on first and third, Lael Lockhart Jr. launched a home run to right-center field, extending the lead to 9-1.
On the mound, Fletcher pitched an absolute gem for the Cougars. Fletcher allowed only four hits and one walk while pitching a full nine innings against the Boilermakers. Despite surrendering only one walk, Fletcher mustered just two strikeouts.
“Last week, it wasn’t what I really wanted in an outing,” Fletcher said. “I had a lot of time to sit back, rest my arm, think, and just go over gameplan. Just stick to what what I’ve been doing all year. Two seams away, that worked really well today. Changeup, I haven’t really thrown that a whole lot this year, but that was a really good pitch for me today. And it helped a lot to get the win.”
“I think we were just chasing them when he was throwing the changeup,” Shipley said. “He wasn’t throwing first strikes all the time, and we were chasing a lot. And he was throwing three pitches for a strike tonight.”
Now that Houston is 1-0 in the regional, the Cougars advance to play No. 1 seed North Carolina on Saturday at 6 p.m.
As a result of losing to Houston, Purdue will now have to fight off elimination in its game against No. 4 seed North Carolina A&T. Mike Wasikowski stressed after his team’s defeat that they must return to playing well under pressure.
“The way we’ve been successful this year has been, it’s an attitude and effort thing,” Wasikowski said. “It’s hard to explain. The attitude and effort tonight was more of the roller coaster that we went through at the beginning of the year.”
“What adjustment would I like to see our club make? I would like to see our club make the adjustment that says, ‘We’re going to show up to the park and play stress free,’ which didn’t happen tonight,” Wasikowski said.