JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (March 21, 2011) - The ETSU softball team's season-long 14-game homestand got off to a bit of a shaky start as the Bucs split with local foe King College Monday evening at Betty Basler Field.
After sophomore outfielder Tara Hartnett (Snellville, Ga.) executed a perfect squeeze play to lift ETSU to a 5-4 win in game one, the Bucs looked prime for the sweep; however, Morehead State University transfer Stephanie Mueller's three-run home run in the sixth inning of the nightcap snapped Shelby Morris' (Mt. Juliet, Tenn.) shutout bid and gave King a split over ETSU, 3-2.
With the split, ETSU saw its season-long four-game winning streak come to a halt and the Bucs saw their record move to 11-15 on the campaign. Meanwhile, King improved to 8-16 on the season.
Freshman Nicole Fox (Peachtree City, Ga.) - who went 5-for-9 with a RBI and three runs scored - extended her hitting streak to five straight games. Fellow Buccaneer teammate Whitley Hensley (Erwin, Tenn.) has now hit safely in four straight contests after going 4-for-5 with a walk on Monday.
Game One Recap
ETSU turned to the squeeze play in the bottom of the sixth to break a 4-all tie as Tara Hartnett's bunt scored Nicole Fox from third, giving the Bucs the eventual 5-4 victory in the opener.
After holding a four-run lead through the first three innings, King worked its way back to tie things at four. But when Fox led off the sixth with a double to left and advanced to third on Marlina Delisa's (Tucson, Ariz.) sac-fly to right, Hartnett laid down the bunt and plated the game-winning run. From there, Morris fanned two of the three Tornado hitters in the seventh to earn her fifth win of the season.
Fox went a perfect 4-for-4 at the dish, joining Delisa as the only other player this season to record four hits in a game. Senior Katie Henderson (Jackson, Tenn.) went 1-for-2 as she put the Bucs on the board early with a two-run bomb in the bottom of the first inning.
The Bucs didn't waste any time making a dent in the scoreboard as Fox led off the bottom of the first with a bunt single and Henderson gave the Blue and Gold a 2-0 lead after she blasted her fourth round-tripper of the season.
ETSU scratched a run across the plate in the second when Fox's two-out bloop single fell in front of Aubree Hutt in right, resulting in head coach Brad Irwin sending Arielle Garner (Buchanan, Ga.) home from second. The move paid off as Garner slid under the tag at the plate - giving the Blue and Gold a three-run cushion.
In the top of third, the Bucs made some gutsy plays defensively, but the moves worked as ETSU kept the Lady Tornado off the scoreboard. Fallon Thomas led off the inning with a double to left-center - and after she moved to third on a passed ball - she was gunned down at the plate by second baseman Amy Campbell (Chattanooga, Tenn.) on Hutt's grounder. After Hutt reached on the fielder's choice, she advanced to second on an illegal pitch, but Duncan worked out of the minor threat by forcing Cassie Ringstaff to tap into an inning-ending grounder back to the circle.
The Blue and Gold struck again with another clutch two-out hit in the third as Campbell's RBI double to left-center scored Henderson and put ETSU ahead, 4-0.
Unfortunately, Jessica Duncan's (Ooltewah, Tenn.) shutout bid went out the window in the top of the fourth when Christy Kooch blasted a three-run homer to left, cutting the King deficit to one, 4-3.
From there, the Bucs looked to be in store for a big inning in the bottom half of the fourth, but base running blunders shot ETSU in the foot. With the bases loaded and one out, Henderson hit a shallow fly to center - but after the King center fielder failed to make a diving catch - the Buccaneer runners didn't advance after the tough read; forcing Henderson out as the umpire ruled the ball dead leaving everyone in attendance confused following the five-minute discussion between the crew.
Just like ETSU, King had a mental lapse on the base path in the top of the fifth. After Stephanie Mueller popped out to second, Hutt made the final out of the inning when she tagged up from third early, keeping the Bucs' one-run lead intact.
With the Lady Tornado missing the opportunity to tie the game up earlier in the game, King finally evened things at four in the sixth on Sam Lower's (Sebring, Fla.) fielding error at short.
Fortunately, ETSU regained the lead in the sixth on the successful squeeze play, and Morris worked a perfect seventh inning to earn the win.
Game Two Recap
Stephanie Mueller hit a three-run homer in the sixth and Christy Kooch made a game-saving catch for the final out in left as the Lady Tornado stunned the Bucs, 3-2.
Game one winner Shelby Morris continued to hold the Lady Tornado hitters in check early and often, but after limiting the King offense to one hit in the first five innings, Mueller tagged the junior righty for the three-run homer on 2-2 pitch in the sixth. However, the Bucs battled late, as Marlina Delisa and Katie Henderson each worked two-out walks in the seventh, but Kooch robbed Sam Lower of a hit as she held onto the final out after running into the fence in left.
Morris saw her record move to 5-4 after allowing the three runs on four hits while striking out five. Rachael Wilmoth earned her third win of the season after issuing two runs on six hits in seven innings of work.
Both teams were held scoreless for the first two innings, but the Bucs plated solo runs in the third and fourth innings to take a 2-0 lead. Henderson registered the first run of the game when her double down the line in left plated Nicole Fox, while Jackie Baird's two-out single in the fourth scored Tara Hartnett - giving the Bucs a two-run advantage.
Unfortunately, the lead couldn't stay intact as Mueller shifted all the momentum into the King dugout when she went yard for the three-run homer in the sixth.
Despite placing two runners on with two outs in the seventh, Kooch came up with the biggest play of the game as she ran into the fence in left to rob Lower of a potential game-winning hit.
After being replaced for her base running error in game one, Henderson stepped up in game two by going a perfect 2-for-2 and reached base safely all four times.
The Bucs return to the diamond on Friday afternoon when ETSU opens Atlantic Sun Conference play with reigning regular season and tournament champion Lipscomb coming to town. First pitch of the doubleheader is set for 4 p.m. at Betty Basler Field.
For more information on Buccaneer softball, visit www.ETSUBucs.com.