With a record crowd and a tremendous atmosphere at Thomas Stadium, the East Tennessee State baseball team offered up a few early thrills. But the Bucs couldn’t keep it up.
In front of a standing-room-only crowd of 1,752, the largest in ETSU baseball history, Tennessee managed to break an eight-game losing streak Tuesday night with a 4-3 victory over the Bucs.
Dylan Tritsch and Mason Hershey hit early solo home runs for ETSU, but as darkness fell, the ball stopped flying and the Bucs stopped scoring.
“We didn’t play very well tonight,” ETSU coach Tony Skole said. “We couldn’t get out of our own way.”
Tennessee’s eventual winning run scored on a wild pitch by ETSU reliever Will Chesney in the fifth inning.
Despite seeing his team fall to 18-12, Skole was thrilled by the atmosphere created by the sellout crowd
“It was really a dream come true,” he said. “I’ve been here 14 years and waited for this day to play in front of a packed house like this for a long time. It was electric, there was a lot of energy and it was a lot of fun. I thought our kids played hard. We just couldn’t seem to execute enough to get the win tonight.”
The Vols had beaten ETSU 9-7 on Feb. 26 in Knoxville, but hadn’t won since March 23. They improved to 14-17.
“For us, it was just what the doctor ordered,” Tennessee coach Dave Serrano said. “It doesn’t get the ship turned all the way around, but just seeing our players’ jubilation after that game, a midweek game, makes me feel good as a coach because we’ve been going through some tough times.”
Tritsch hit his first home run of the season in the first inning. The solo shot was a line drive over the left-field fence and brought the sellout crowd to its feet.
The Vols tied it on Vincent Jackson’s RBI groundout in the second.
Hershey belted his home run well over the 370-foot mark in left-center in the bottom of the third to make it 2-1.
Tennessee grabbed its first lead of the night in the fourth when Scott Price hit a solo homer just inside the left-field foul pole and, after a pair of singles, Taylor Smart drove in a run with a groundout to make it 3-2.
ETSU starter Griffin Krieg (2-3) worked into the fifth inning and was relieved by Chesney with runners on the corners. Just when it appeared as through Chesney was going to pitch out of the jam, he uncorked a wild pitch that made it 4-2.
ETSU center fielder Andrew Green kept it a two-run game with a fine running catch in the sixth. He flagged down David Houser’s towering drive and caught it on the run just before slamming into the wall.
Dalton Saberhagen, son of two-time Cy Young winner Bret Saberhagen, came on to pitch in the sixth for the Vols. He went two-thirds of an inning, allowing a run on two hits.
Clinton Freeman’s deep double to center field off of Saberhagen set the Bucs up to score on Green’s hard grounder to first. With Freeman on third representing the tying run, Tennessee reliever Trevor Charpie struck out Kevin Phillips to end the inning.
ETSU ace Kerry Doane came on in the seventh, making just his second relief appearance of the season. The senior righty with six complete games to his credit, worked two scoreless innings.
Freeman then pitched a scoreless ninth, giving the Bucs one more chance to tie or win the game, but they went in order as Tennessee’s fifth pitcher, Trevor Bettencourt, earned his third save.
“It was a good game,” Freeman said. “Any time you play those guys, it’s gonna be a tough game. We can’t do anything about it. We lost a good game.”
Tennessee out-hit the Bucs 9-7.Will Maddox, Price and Pierce Billy each had two hits. Jeremy Taylor and Tritsch each had two for ETSU.
ETSU second baseman Derek Niesman left the game after suffering an injured wrist trying to make a diving play.
For a brief second, it appeared as though Hershey had given the Bucs the lead in the seventh. With a runner on, he launched a shot to left field. As the crowd began to sense a homer, it was caught on the warning track.
ETSU returns to action Friday night when it begins a three-game home Atlantic Sun Conference series with Lipscomb.