DeLAND Fla. (May 23, 2013) – The “Comeback Bucs” were at it yet again.
Trailing by three through four innings of play, the ETSU baseball team continued to fight and eventually tied it at four on freshman Kevin Phillips’ (St. Louis, Mo.) solo home run in the eighth, while the Blue and Gold capped off their second straight extra-inning victory in the Atlantic Sun Championship by plating three runs in the 10th to rally past No. 23 Mercer, 7-4, on Friday afternoon at Melching Field.
Two days after senior Alex Reynolds (Johnson City, Tenn.) lifted the Bucs to their sixth extra-inning victory with a two-RBI walk-off single in the 11th, fellow senior Andrew Green (Powell, Tenn.) – who set the new all-time ETSU stolen base record in the win over the Bears – scored the eventual game-winning run on a wild pitch in the top of the 10th, while junior Clinton Freeman (Jonesborough, Tenn.) picked up his second straight tournament win by tossing the final three innings out of the bullpen. In the end, the Blue and Gold improved to 7-0 in extra-inning games this season and also became the first team in A-Sun Tournament history to win multiple games in extra frames.
The two-out homer by Phillips was his lone hit of the game, but it was the second time in his last three games the A-Sun All-Freshmen Team selection has recorded a round-tripper. Meanwhile, Green went 1-for-4 with a walk and has now reached base safely in 21 straight games, and the speedster swiped his 76th base of his career in the sixth inning to break Tony Martin’s record, set from 1980-83. Senior Derek Niesman (Wellington, Fla.) extended his hit streak to 14 straight games after going 3-for-5 with an RBI and a career-high three runs scored, while senior catcher Mason Hershey (Altoona, Pa.) registered his 13th multi-hit game of the campaign by finishing with two hits. Overall, ETSU’s six-thru-nine hitters generated seven of its 11 hits for the game.
Freeman improved to 7-1 after holding Mercer’s offense scoreless in the final three innings and moved into a tie with Northern Kentucky’s Brett Loeding for the season lead in games finished at 21. The junior southpaw scattered three hits and struck out three in relief. Sophomore Jimmy Nesselt (Plantation, Fla.) tossed seven strong innings in his fourth start after coming back from an arm injury which was suffered in early March. Nesselt allowed four runs on seven hits and struck out a career-high seven batters.
ETSU extended its win streak to five straight and moved to 34-22 on the season, while the Bucs also earned their first-ever A-Sun Tournament win against Mercer in four tries. Furthermore, the 34 wins are tied for fourth all-time in program history (the 1982 team went 34-19). Mercer had its six-game win streak snapped and dropped to 43-15.
After not being able to generate any runs off Mercer starter DJ Johnson in the first four innings of play, the Bucs finally attacked the right-hander by plating two runs in the fifth to pull within one, 3-2. Johnson tossed 6.2 innings of scoreless ball in the win over ETSU back on May 12, but sophomore Chris Riopedre (Miami, Fla.) snapped the drought when his double to left scored Niesman – who led off with an infield single – and Riopedre came in on Hershey’s RBI single up the middle.
Mercer got one of those runs back with a sac-fly RBI in the sixth, but the Bucs answered with a sac-fly of their own when Jeremy Taylor’s (Fayetteville, Ga.) fly out to center scored Niesman, making it a 4-3 score.
From there, Phillips came through with the clutch two-out solo blast in the eighth to pull the Blue and Gold even at four – and after Freeman faced the minimum in his first two innings out of the pen – ETSU’s offense sparked again by plating three runs in the 10th to take its first lead at, 7-4. Green started things by reaching via a one-out walk and advanced to third when Freeman connected on a single to right. With one out and runners on the corners, Green sprinted home when first team All A-Sun relief pitcher Dimitri Kourtis was charged with his third wild pitch of the season, while Freeman hustled in on Niesman’s two-out RBI single to left. Niesman moved to second on his single when Logan Gaines had trouble picking up the ball, and the Buccaneer second baseman scored on Reynolds’ single to right, giving Freeman a three-run cushion to work with.
The Bears made things interesting in the bottom of the frame as Sasha Lagarde and A-Sun Player of the Year Chesny Young reached on one-out singles, but Freeman forced Nick Backlund to fly out to center and struck out Gaines looking to end the game.
Both teams missed scoring chances in the first three innings of play, and Mercer jumped out to the 3-0 lead in the fourth when Michael Massi’s bases clearing double gave the Bears a three-run advantage. However, the Bears suffered just their eighth loss this season when scoring the first run of the game, as Mercer is now 25-8 when having the first runner cross the dish.
Kourtis was dealt his second loss of the season and moved to 5-2 after issuing three runs (two earned) on three hits in 1.2 innings of relief. Junior Austin Barrett led the Bears by posting three of their 10 hits, while Massi drove in three of the four Mercer runs.
The Bucs will now take on the winner of Mercer/USC Upstate on Saturday at 1:15 p.m., in the pod championship. The Bears and Spartans are scheduled to start tonight at 7:30 p.m.
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