Freeman hit a two-run home run and struck out four during a two-inning save in East Tennessee State’s 2-1 win at Tennessee on April 1.
“I always wanna see guys that I played against in high school and guys I grew up around do good,” Peterson said. “But to get beat by him on a two-run bomb by him, that wasn’t too fun.”
Peterson’s consolation came in striking out Freeman with a changeup away while working a perfect inning of relief.
“And it was a good changeup, too,” said Freeman, who’d given the Bucs a 2-0 lead when he homered in the fourth on an 0-1 curveball from Kyle Serrano. “I thought he (Peterson) was gonna come in and pitch a couple of balls, but he spotted up really good. And I think he’s 90-92 (mph).”
They have competed against one another since Peterson was at Unaka and Freeman played for David Crockett, and could face each other when Tennessee (25-13) visits East Tennessee State (19-18) tonight at 7.
“Josh’s really athletic,” Freeman said. “He played football and basketball (at Unaka). He could dunk a ball and handle the ball really good as a point guard.”
UT coach Dave Serrano noted Peterson being fresh for tonight’s matchup on The Sports Animal radio station Monday.
“I’m sure Josh will have a lot of people at the game,” Freeman said. “Hopefully, he’ll get to pitch.”
The 6-foot-2, 200-pound Freeman is concluding an excellent career with an exceptional season that evokes images of ETSU dual threat Caleb Moore’s junior season in 2004, especially when factoring in the inferior bats used today. Freeman is hitting .361 — 73 points higher than any teammate — and his nine home runs are equal to the next three highest teammates’ combined total. He leads the team in numerous hitting categories, and his 44 RBIs are more than any two other Bucs’ totals combined. He also has eight saves and a win, and the left-hander is quick to credit pitching coach Kyle Bunn.
Freeman’s talent was obvious even as an underclassman at Crockett.
“I remember him throwing really hard from the left side … and he had a stick on him,” Peterson said. “He could swing it pretty good, and obviously it developed on from the four years in high school up to where he’s at now.”
As good a player as he is, Peterson says, Freeman’s an even better person.
“Honestly, he’s one of the best guys I know,” Peterson said. “He loves the boys with all his heart, you know, and you can tell by looking at him – just the way he acts – that he definitely walks what he preaches.”
As if on cue in a subsequent conversation, Freeman talked about being mindful of young kids watching how he handles himself inside and outside the lines.
“Sometimes you can set a better example when you go 0-for-4 than when you go 4-for-4,” Freeman said.
Peterson (2-0), a 6-foot-2, 195-pound junior, has transitioned smoothly in his first season out of Walters State. He has a 1.71 ERA and has allowed 19 hits in 26 1/3 innings. He’s struck out 21 while walking four.
Peterson said Serrano has helped him develop a changeup that has become his “go-to pitch.” Peterson’s most gratifying outing was April 5 against No. 4 Vanderbilt. He threw 56 pitches in 3 2/3 innings, striking out four, walking none and giving up three hits and one unearned run while UT rallied to even the series and snap a five-game losing streak. UT won the series the following day and Peterson has thrown five scoreless innings since, including 2 2/3 at Georgia.
Peterson and Freeman admit conference games take precedence, particularly at this point in the season. But there’s more than bragging rights at stake tonight.
“If we beat them or just play good, it’s definitely gonna build momentum going into Kennesaw,” Freeman said. “For ETSU baseball, we’re gonna have a lot bigger games coming up than this one. But … the electricity in our stadium tomorrow will definitely help going down the road as we play Mercer and Florida Gulf Coast and teams like that.”
Of course, the Vols don’t want to spend a year digesting an instate sweep.
“We made it a mission to own the state,” Peterson said, “and that was hard to take against ETSU in the last one.”
ETSU’s Jimmy Nesselt (4-3, 4.50 ERA) is scheduled to start tonight against fellow right-hander Bret Marks (3-0, 4.35).
Thomas Stadium’s largest attendance (1,752) came during the Volunteers’ visit last season. That record is expected to be broken. The game sold out (1,028) last week and standing-room tickets are expected to be buoyed by a pregame concert and cookout sponsored by University Edge.
Many are coming to see Peterson, including a church group and Little Leaguers.
“I had to get teammates to transfer some tickets over,” Peterson said, “so I could get some people on my pass list with it.”
Who knows, perhaps they’ll get to see Peterson face Freeman with the game on the line.
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