Sitting .500, Bucs look for good start to conference season
MACON, Ga. (March 8, 2013) – Winners of five of its last seven and seven of its last 10 games, the ETSU softball team looks to keep rolling this weekend when it opens Atlantic Sun Conference play in a three-game series against Mercer at Sikes Field.
ETSU (7-7) and Mercer (11-12) begin the series Saturday, squaring off in a doubleheader at 1 p.m. The series finale is scheduled for 1 p.m., Sunday.
The Atlantic Sun slate has not been so kind to the Buccaneers over the recent years. Last season, ETSU suffered its worst conference record since joining the league, posting a 1-17 mark, which followed a 2011 campaign that saw the Bucs go 3-17. In fact, ETSU’s wins in A-Sun play have declined each year since going 10-12 in 2008.
All of that is in the past. This year, ETSU boasts a .500-or-better record through 14 games for the first time since 2010 (7-7), including a 7-3 mark through its last 10 games. A big part of ETSU’s recent success has been the bat of junior Jackie Baird (Ooltewah, Tenn.) who leads the A-Sun in hitting with a .513 average. Baird is also slugging .769 and carries on OBP of.612, leading the Buccaneers in each category, along with 10 RBIs and two home runs to her credit.
Baird is just one several Bucs hitting well at the plate through the opening quarter of the season. Sophomore Casey Horner (Whitesburg, Tenn.), junior Tara Hartnett (Snellville, Ga.), junior Katie Wolff (LaGrange, Texas) and redshirt sophomore Nicole Fox (Peachtree City, Ga.) are all hitting .320 or better and have the Bucs sitting at .300 as a team to rank third in the A-Sun.
Horner heads into the Mercer series at .389, leading ETSU in RBIs with 12 to go along with a long ball and three doubles. The first baseman has pulled through in big spots for the Bucs, including the walk-off single with two outs in the final game of the series against Siena. Also with a walk-off hit is Hartnett, who holds a .379 average with five runs and six RBIs. Hartnett’s game-winner came at the College of Charleston Classic, capping off an eighth-inning comeback to defeat James Madison.
Come-from-behind victories have been the mantra to ETSU’s early success. Three of the Bucs’ seven wins have resulted from comebacks, and with no lack of dramatics. Both Horner’s walk-off single against Siena and Hartnett’s against JMU came with the bases loaded, two outs and ETSU overcoming a four-run, last-inning deficit to win. The other comeback also took place at the CofC Classic with Baird hitting a two-run, go-ahead homer in the top of the seventh after ETSU had given up six runs and the lead to the Cougars in the sixth.
Success is also very dependent on a team’s pitching, which ETSU has improved on immensely. A staff that ended the 2012 season with a 4.72 ERA is sitting at 3.15 in 2013, led by the arm of freshman Sam Harrell (Okeechobee, Fla.). Fourteen games in, Harrell (4-3) has made eight starts and boasts a team-best ERA of 2.03. The freshman has tossed five complete games, two shutouts, is holding the opposition to .229 at the plate and averages 4.5 strikeouts per seven innings pitched.
ETSU’s No. 2 option in the circle, Wolff (2-3), has been steady with a 3.23 ERA through 30.1 innings of work. Aside from her great start to the season offensively, Wolff has struck out 22 batters and only walked 11 to average 5.1 strikeouts and 2.5 walks per seven innings.
Last Time Out
Winter weather cancelled all six games scheduled for last weekend’s Holiday Inn Buccaneer Challenge, but ETSU and Bowling Green were able to salvage a Monday doubleheader. The Bucs and Falcons split the day as Harrell tossed a complete-game shutout to help ETSU win, 5-0, in game one, before Paris Imholz did the same in game two to help BGSU to victory, 1-0.
Harrell was the story in game one, allowing just three hits, four walks and striking out four en route to the shutout. The freshman hurler was backed up by her offense, which put up two runs right from the beginning and added three more along the way to create some breathing room. Five different Buccaneers combined for ETSU’s five hits in the game.
ETSU put the opener away in the sixth. Ahead, 3-0, Hartnett singled with two on which resulted in both runs coming across – an error helping the latter – to give Harrell a five-run cushion heading into the last. It was more than enough breathing room as Harrell closed out the game for her fourth victory of the season.
Imholz and Wolff squared off in a pitchers’ duel in game two. Both threw a complete game, but Wolff allowed the one run while Imholz improved her record to 3-0 with the shutout.
The only run of the game came in the second on a double off the wall in left by Chloe Giordano which scored Imholz. The Buccaneers had three good chances to score, but were unsuccessful on all three occasions. ETSU left Fox stranded at third in the first and got the first two batters on in the fourth, but were unable to bring either around. The final chance came in the seventh after Horner reached on a one-out double. She was left 60 feet away.
Mercer will be looking to bounce back from a less-than-stellar performance at its home tournament last weekend, winning just two of five games. The last of its three weekend losses was nothing to feel good about, falling, 10-0, in five innings to Central Arkansas. The Bears were also swept in a doubleheader against Georgia State the Wednesday prior, making them 2-5 through their last seven games.
Preseason All-Atlantic Sun outfielder McKenzie Woody leads the Mercer offense which is hitting a point better than ETSU at .301. Woody boasts a .420 average with 10 RBIs and is the Bears’ leading threat on the base paths with nine swipes on 13 attempts. Behind Woody are Kaytlin Haney and Rachel Hugghins, each hitting .333 and each with one homer on the year. Mercer’s leading power threat is Krista Kennedy who has driven in 21 runs and belted six homers while hitting .258. Randi Rea has scored 21 runs and has two long balls to lead all starters in slugging at .619.
Julia Rice will most likely be Mercer’s game-one starter. Rice (5-4) has started 12 games with a 3.75 ERA in 69.0 innings pitched and is not known to strikeout many, averaging just 2.5 per seven innings. The likely game-two starter will be Kerri Nidiffer (6-7) who has made seven starts and holds a team-best ERA of 2.90. Nidiffer has appeared in 15 of Mercer’s 23 games and will probably be Rice’s reliever should ETSU get to Rice in game one.
A series which began with ETSU’s entrance into the Atlantic Sun Conference in 2005-06 has favored Mercer, 10-5. The Bears have won the last four meetings – sweeping ETSU in both 2011 and ’12 – with the Bucs’ last win coming in 2010 when they swept a doubleheader by scores of 5-4 and 5-2. Mercer swept the doubleheader in Johnson City, 4-3 and 3-2, last year and pulled out a doubleheader shutout, 8-0 and 4-0, two years ago in Macon. ETSU is just 1-5 against the Bears all-time on the road, having lost the last five.
Live stats for all three games of the weekend series will be available through Stat Broadcast by logging onto ETSUBucs.com. ETSU’s latest partner in live statistics allows fans to access all the stats they need, keep up with the scores around the conference with a built-in scoreboard and even interact with the action. Fans who Tweet using the hashtags #ETSUsb or #BucYeah will have their Tweets shown at the bottom interface and will be able to interact with @ETSUSoftball and @ETSUAthletics.
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