KENNESAW, Ga. (April 27, 2014) – The ETSU baseball team will be glad to leave Kennesaw in its rearview mirror.
Despite scoring five-runs in the top of the ninth to take a one-run lead and having the Owls down to their final out in the bottom of the inning, the Bucs were unable to close things out as Chris McGowan’s two-run walk-off homer capped off a stunning 9-8 win on Sunday afternoon at Stillwell Stadium.
Prior to the lead changing hands in the ninth, ETSU was up 3-2 in the seventh, but Kennesaw State struck for four runs in the bottom of the frame and added one more in the eighth to take a 7-3 lead. However, the Buccaneer bats came alive in the ninth as the Blue and Gold jumped all over Justin McCalvin – one of the top closers in the conference – for the five runs.
After taking over for starter Jamin McCann (Kingsport, Tenn.) in the sixth, Clinton Freeman (Jonesborough, Tenn.) suffered his first loss out of the bullpen since April 14, 2012. McCann took a no-decision after allowing two runs on eight hits, while striking out four and walking one in five innings of work. Freeman suffered the loss (1-4) after being charged for seven runs (six earned) on six hits in 3.2 innings.
Six Buccaneer batters finished with two-hit games as ETSU totaled 13 as a team. Jeremy Taylor (Fayetteville, Ga.) and Chris Cook (Kingsport, Tenn.) both extended their hitting streaks as they ended with a pair of hits on Sunday. Taylor, who has now hit in 12 straight games, went 2-for-5 with a run scored and two RBI, while Cook has now hit safely in 11 consecutive contests. Tyler Roach (Knoxville, Tenn.) recorded the first two runs of the afternoon after belting a two-run homer in the second, while it was his at-bat the drove in the go-ahead run in the ninth as he reached on a fielding error by Clint Wynn at first. Chris Riopedre (Miami, Fla.) also posted two hits and he drove in the tying run in the ninth as he sent a two-strike single into left. Freshman Zach Mize (Gainesville, Ga.) made his first start since March 30 and provided the Blue and Gold with a pair of doubles, while sophomore Kevin Phillips (St. Louis, Mo) ignited the ninth-inning rally by hitting an inside the park home run after Kennesaw State’s center and right fielders collided, which halted the game for 15 minutes before they could be helped off the field.
Following the setback, ETSU has suffered its fourth straight loss and dropped to 20-22, 8-9 in A-Sun play, while the Owls earned their 11th straight win, improving to 25-20, 11-9.
Prior to the late-inning rollercoaster ride, the Bucs led for the majority of the game, courtesy of Roach’s fourth homer of the year in the second and Mize’s RBI double in the fourth. Roach’s two-run bomb gave the Bucs a 2-0 lead, and after Kennesaw State cut its deficit in half in the bottom of the second, Mize came through with the first of two doubles two innings later.
The Owls clipped it back to a one-run game in the bottom of the fourth when Matt Bahnick’s two-out solo home run made it a 3-2 score.
Kennesaw State threatened an inning later when the Owls had runners on first and second with only one, but McCann zoned in and worked out of trouble to keep ETSU’s 3-2 lead intact after five complete innings. The Buccaneer left-hander forced Bo Way to ground into a fielder’s choice, and after Way stole second, McCann froze Alex Liquori on a 3-2 pitch to keep the pair of Kennesaw runners stranded in scoring position.
From there, McCann’s day was done as head coach Tony Skole turned the ball over to Freeman for the remainder of the game, which has typically resulted in a winning formula when the senior southpaw takes to the hill in a save situation.
However, after Freeman worked out of trouble in the sixth, the Jonesborough, Tenn. native couldn’t work out of a dicey situation an inning later as the Owls scored four runs to take their first lead of the game, 6-3.
Kennesaw State plated an unearned run in the bottom of the eighth to extend its lead to four (7-3), but the Blue and Gold fought back in the top of the ninth. Momentum shifted as Phillips connected on his home run to the gap in right-center, which struck fear in everyone in the ballpark when Way and Justin Motley collided and were laid out on the warning track for 15 minutes.
After both players were helped off the field, the Bucs hit McCalvin hard.
Following a walk to Zach Thompson (Johnson City, Tenn.), Mize registered his second double of the day, while both runners scored when Taylor drove a single to the gap in center, making it a one-run affair. Taylor advanced to second on the play and moved to third when Cook flew out to center, bringing Riopedre to the plate with two outs. Riopedre fell behind 1-2, but he found a pitch to his liking and plated the tying run by ripping single to left. Then, Roach came to the plate, and Freeman - who was intentionally walked prior to Riopedre's at-bat - scored the go-ahead run after Wynn had the ball go between his legs at first, but Riopedre tried to score from first on the play and was gunned down at the plate for the final out of the inning.
ETSU looked to be in good shape in the bottom of the ninth as Freeman got the first two Kennesaw hitters out, but following a six-pitch walk to Brennan Morgan, McGowan took the second pitch he saw over the wall in right for the walk-off homer.
McGowan and Pentecost led the Owls with three hits each as Kennesaw State, who posted 42 hits on the weekend, totaled 14 in the finale.
James Connell earned the win (4-3) after replacing McCalvin with two outs in the top of the ninth.
The Bucs wrap up their four-game road swing Wednesday night when ETSU heads to Radford. Game time is set for 6 p.m.
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