Baird blasts 11th home run to tie single-season record, stands one homer shy of matching all-time record
JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (March 9, 2014) - The ETSU softball team carried a 5-2 lead into the fifth inning of Sunday's rubber game with Mercer, but the Bucs were unable to stave off a Mercer comeback, falling, 9-5, in extra innings.
The Buccaneers (10-8, 1-2) got off to a quick start, chasing two Mercer pitchers from the game in the opening four innings of play en route to scoring five runs.
Junior third baseman Sam Carpenter (Forest City, N.C.) sent a two-out offering from Kirsten Stevens over the left field fence to give ETSU a 1-0 advantage after two innings. The long ball was Carpenter's first of the season.
The Bucs enjoyed back-to-back two-run innings in their third and fourth frames, extending ETSU's lead to 5-2 after four innings of work.
With two outs in the fourth inning, senior slugger Jackie Baird (Ooltewah, Tenn.) belted her-team best 11th home run to deep center field, matching Stephanie Gaynord's single-season home run record set in 2006.
Baird needed just 47 at bats to match the single-season record, 135 fewer than Gaynord. The Ooltewah, Tenn., native stands just one long ball away from tying Gaynord (2004-07) for ETSU's all-time home run record (25).
Mercer's starting pitcher Riley Carter and her replacement, Stevens, combined to pitch just three and two-thirds innings, allowing five runs and six walks; however, senior right-hander Julia Rice brought a steadying presence to the mound for the Bears (17-7, 2-1) in the final half of the game.
Rice held the Bucs scoreless in the final four and one-third innings, allowing Mercer to mount a comeback attempt.
Junior Whitney Leon (Dandridge, Tenn.) allowed just one earned run in her first four innings of work for ETSU; however, a three-run Mercer fifth inning closed the curtains on the right-hander's otherwise successful day.
"I thought Whitney [Leon] did everything we asked her to do after throwing a complete game yesterday," ETSU head coach Brad Irwin said. "She gave us a chance to win the ballgame."
The Bucs came within 60 feet of securing their second conference win of the season, as Bethany Cowart (Ringgold, Ga.) singled to start the ETSU seventh before advancing to third following a Latosha Rectenwald (Whitesburg, Tenn.) sacrifice bunt and a wild pitch. A Carpenter walk sandwiched between ground outs by Alex Everett (Soddy Daisy, Tenn.) and Nicole Fox (Peachtree City, Ga.) ended the inning.
ETSU and Mercer entered extra innings knotted at 5-5, however the Bears would break the deadlock in their first at bat of the eighth inning.
Freshman first baseman Caroline Taylor led off the inning by blasting a solo home run to left field on the first pitch of the at bat.
The Bears would go on to manufacture three more runs in the inning, forcing ETSU to face a 9-5 deficit with just three outs to work with.
A one-out single by Carter gave the Bucs a brief glimmer of hope, however Baird grounded into a 4-6-3 double play to end the game.
"I felt like we were right there with a shot to win it," Irwin said. "The game got tight and I felt like we allowed the pressure to get to us a little bit. That's something we'll look to build on—not letting the pressure affect us, thriving on that pressure, and continuing to play the way we play."
ETSU will continue conference play as it visits Ft. Myers, Fla., to take on Florida Gulf Coast in a three-game series beginning Saturday, March 15.
FOLLOW THE BUCS