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Chilly spring has Bucs happy to head south

Kelly Hodge • Mar 27, 2013 at 10:46 PM

Forget the boys of summer. It takes men to keep playing baseball in cold, snow and biting wind.

East Tennessee State has that routine down pat.

The Bucs have endured more than a month of wintry weather so far while playing 15 of 21 games at home. Only two games at Thomas Stadium have been cancelled, but many more could have been.

“Thank goodness we have artificial turf, or we’d probably have lost 10 or 12 games to the weather,” coach Tony Skole said Tuesday. “I can go back and recall only one really nice day, where I didn’t have on tights, a turtleneck and a jacket. It’s tough all over the country. Those schools in the Big Ten and Midwest are really struggling. It’s hard to even get out and practice.”

Skole is pleased to be heading to Jacksonville this week. The Bucs open a three-game series tonight at North Florida.

“It’s supposed to be 68 and they’re whining because they think it’s cold,” he said. “We’ll take that in a heartbeat.”

The Bucs are 3-3 in the Atlantic Sun Conference and 13-8 overall. They’re coming off a hotly contested series with 25th-ranked Florida Gulf Coast, the preseason co-favorite, here last weekend.

The Eagles won the series 3-2, but all three games were one-run affairs.

“From a fan’s standpoint, it was a great series,” said Skole. “They were very competitive, well-pitched games. I’m disappointed we lost two out of three, but we really competed. The starting pitching the first two games was phenomenal.”

Skole is still having to juggle his pitching staff because of an injury to starter Jimmy Nesselt. The 6-2, 236-pound sophomore is out with soreness in his right elbow but has begun throwing on the side again.

Skole hopes to have Nesselt back in the starting rotation by the Lipscomb series in a couple of weeks. That would free up Clinton Freeman to go back to his closer’s role.

“There’s an old saying that you never have enough pitching, and we’re no different than a lot of teams,” said Skole.

Freeman, the junior from Jonesborough, continues to flourish on the mound and at the plate. He’s 4-0 with two saves in 10 pitching appearances, and is hitting .398 with seven home runs and 23 RBI.

n The softball season is unfortunately taking on a familiar look for ETSU.

The Bucs are off to an 0-8 start in the conference and have lost 12 of their last 13 games overall. They stand at 8-18.

This comes after a season in which the Bucs went 1-17 in the A-Sun. They’re now 4-42 in conference play in Brad Irwin’s three seasons as coach.

Maybe a trip to Jacksonville will help. The Bucs play at North Florida on Friday and Saturday. The Ospreys are 3-3 in the A-Sun and 24-10 overall.

ETSU is fourth in team batting, with a .284 average, but seventh in pitching, with a 3.81 ERA, and next to last in fielding.

Nicole Fox is batting .357, followed by Jackie Baird at .346.

n The men’s tennis team hasn’t met much resistance in conference on its way to six straight championships. In fact, it has lost just two regular-season matches in seven years.

Things might be different this spring.

The Bucs have split their first two A-Sun matches, losing 4-3 at home to North Florida a week ago. Now they face two tough challenges this week in the Sunshine State.

They play today at Stetson, which is 4-0 in the league, and then at Florida Gulf Coast (3-1). The Bucs shut out both of those teams a year ago.

Counting non-conference losses to Nebraska, Georgia and Dartmouth, the Bucs have dropped four of their last five matches to fall to 5-6 overall.

On the women’s side, ETSU (6-4) is preparing to face the league’s frontrunners in Stetson and Gulf Coast, which are both 4-0. The Lady Bucs, at 2-0, are the only other unbeaten team.

n Florida Gulf Coast is now the darling of the NCAA basketball tournament, but the Eagles were still a well-kept secret on their own campus until recently.

The Atlantic Sun champs have burst on the national scene with their run to the Sweet 16 – the first 15-seed to ever make it. It’s a flashy team with a crowd-pleasing style that overwhelmed Georgetown and San Diego State.

And yet in 16 home dates in Fort Myers this season, the Eagles averaged just 2,290 fans, which ranked fourth in the conference. That included 4,552 in their signature 63-51 victory over Miami back in November.

The Eagles have traditionally taken a back seat to the Gulf Coast women, who were working on two straight undefeated seasons in conference before being ambushed by Stetson in the tournament final in Macon. Now they’re the toast of the coast, and beyond.

The Eagles will play third-seeded Florida on Friday night in Arlington, Texas.

n Florida Gulf Coast isn’t the only ETSU connection to the NCAA tournament.

Behind the scenes there’s Will Bailey, an assistant coach for La Salle. He was on ETSU coach Murry Bartow’s staff for seven years before leaving for Philadelphia in 2010.

Bailey spends much of his coaching time working with the La Salle guards.

The Explorers of the Atlantic-10 Conference are making their first NCAA appearance in two decades and will play Wichita State tonight in Los Angeles. They’ve taken the hard way to the Sweet 16, having to play three games instead of two as a 13-seed starting in Dayton.

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