JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (May 16, 2014) – The ETSU baseball team clinched a series win in dramatic fashion Friday night at Thomas Stadium.
Mercer scored three runs in the ninth inning to pull within a run, but with two outs and a runner on second, ETSU right fielder Tyler Roach (Knoxville, Tenn.) gunned down Michael Massi at the plate to secure a 7-6 victory for the Blue and Gold.
The Bucs, who have five walk-off wins on the season, thrive in late-inning situations; however, this time ETSU used a strong defensive play to earn its fifth conference series win of the year. Roach, who was brought to Johnson City as a first baseman, made the transition to the outfield this season and found the perfect time to record his first outfield assist as a Buccaneer.
Prior to Roach’s heroics, a pair of freshman helped put the Blue and Gold in a winning situation as left-hander Jamin McCann (Kingsport, Tenn.) gave ETSU a quality start and Gage Downey (Franklin, Tenn.) put the Bucs ahead for good when he connected on a three-run home run in the second inning. McCann (4-4) earned his first winning decision in over a month by allowing three runs on six hits in six innings of work. The Kingsport, Tenn. native also struck out five and walked one, while Downey’s blast was the first homer of his collegiate career.
Senior Clinton Freeman (Jonesborough, Tenn.), who reached base all five times at the plate, earned his 11th save of the season despite facing the rocky situation in the ninth. Freeman retired the side in the seventh and eighth innings before the Bears struck for three runs on five hits in the final inning. At the plate, Freeman went 3-for-3 with two walks and two runs.
As a team, the Bucs registered 12 hits, while eight different players finished with at least one base knock. Along with home run, Downey also singled and scored on Jordan Sanford’s (Powell, Tenn.) two-run scoring double in the sixth. Sanford extended his hit streak to 12 straight games with the hit, while Kevin Phillips (St. Louis, Mo.) went 2-for-2 with two walks, a run and an RBI.
With the win, ETSU improved to 26-27, 13-12 in A-Sun play, while Mercer suffered its fourth straight conference loss and moved to 37-15, 17-9. The defending regular season champions came into the weekend looking to earn the top seed, but after dropping the first two games of the series and FGCU winning 3-2 earlier on Friday, the Bears’ run for consecutive titles came to an end. Mercer now can only finish as high as second, while the Bucs still don’t know their seed for next week’s conference championship as ETSU can finish as high as five and as low as seven. A win on Saturday would lock up the five seed for the Blue and Gold.
Mercer grabbed the early momentum by plating a run in the first two innings to go ahead, 2-0, but McCann regrouped after working out of a first-inning jam and was rewarded by Downey’s three run blast to left in the bottom of the second.
The homer swung momentum to the Buccaneer dugout as the Blue and Gold never trailed after the round tripper, and ETSU extended its lead to 4-2 when Phillips drove in Freeman with a single in the third.
The Bears pulled within a run an inning later as Nate Moorhouse recorded a one-out home run in the fourth; however, McCann and Freeman silenced Mercer’s offense by retiring 15 of the next 17 hitters before the ninth inning rally.
From there, the Bucs pushed across a run in the fifth and two more in the sixth to extend their lead to, 7-3. Freeman scored on Roach’s double play in the fifth and Sanford’s double in the sixth scored the eventual game-winning runs.
Freeman entered in the seventh and retired the first six hitters he faced, but endured some trouble in the ninth as Kyle Lewis began the rally with a one-out homer to left-center. Following Mercer’s second home run of the night, the Bears picked up RBI doubles by Massi and Charlie Madden. However, with two outs and the tying run at second, Sasha LaGarde singled to right, but Roach fielded the ball cleanly and fired a bullet to Downey at the plate to gun down Massi for the final out of the game.
Mercer starter Grant Papelian was dealt the loss (5-3) after allowing four runs on six hits in 2.1 innings.
The Bears finished with 11 hits on the night and were led by Moorhouse’s three-hit effort. Massi, LaGarde and Nick Backlund all tallied two hits in the losing effort.
The Bucs look to sweep the series Saturday afternoon as first pitch is set for 1:05 p.m.
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