A day after he was chosen to the watch list for an award as the nation’s most versatile player, Clinton Freeman did it all for the East Tennessee State baseball team.
Freeman drove in six runs and closed both games on the mound Saturday, leading East Tennessee State to a doubleheader sweep of Kennesaw State at Thomas Stadium. The Bucs won 9-7 and 8-2.
“He really was locked in today,” ETSU coach Tony Skole said. “Being able to come in and close out two games in one day is not an easy thing to do, but he’s just a baseball player and it’s good to get him back on track with some confidence.”
A day earlier, it was announced that Freeman was on the list of candidates for the John Olerud Two-Way Player of the Year Award. His day began in fine fashion when he belted a two-run home run in the first inning. It was his 10th homer of the season, and eight have come at home.
By the end of the day, Freeman was 6 for 8, and his six RBIs gave him 100 for his career. He raised his batting average to .360, earned his sixth save of the season -- and he did it all while limping on a knee he tweaked the night before.
“I think I made a couple of adjustments with my swing and the coaches talked to me about not putting too much pressure on myself,” Freeman said. “The last couple of weeks I feel like I hit the ball decent and got outs. You just have to keep grinding and stay at it.”
The Bucs improved to 24-14 overall, 13-8 in the Atlantic Sun Conference, good for third place. Kennesaw State fell to 22-24, 10-11.
In the first game, Kerry Doane wasn’t his usual sharp self, but he was good enough. Doane’s streak of five complete games came to an end, but the Bucs’ ace still managed to earn his ninth victory.
Doane (9-1) worked seven innings, allowed six runs (four earned) on a season-high 13 hits and saw his ERA rise from 1.97 to 2.20.
“Kerry really battled,” Skole said. “It wasn’t easy for him. It’s been easy for him in the past, but today they made it tough and he battled and battled.”
Doane was the recipient of some defensive help. ETSU turned three double plays. In addition, all three of the Bucs’ outfielders make noteworthy catches.
First, Andrew Green rushed in and made a head-first diving catch of Bo Way’s sinking liner in the third inning. It was Green’s third diving catch in the first two games of the series, and it was a big play, considering the Owls were roughing up Doane to the tune of six hits in the first three innings.
Left fielder Dylan Tritsch made a running catch as he crashed into the wall just below the foul pole. Later, right fielder Jeremy Taylor hauled in a foul ball against the bullpen wall after a long run.
Freeman came on to work the final two innings and earned his sixth save, but it was anything but easy. The Bucs’ closer allowed a pair of hits, walked two batters and gave up a run.
With the bases loaded and the tying run on second, Freeman struck out Kody Belcher to end the game.
In the nightcap, Logan Rice pitched what Skole called his best game of the season. The junior righty from Erwin improved to 5-1 by holding the Owls to one run on six hits in seven innings. It was the longest outing of his career.
“I just had everything working today,” Rice said. “The changeup was there. The fastball was there, and I had my curveball working, which has been hard to find here lately.”
Taylor and Green each had a two-run double in the sixth as ETSU stretched a 2-1 lead to 6-1 to ice the game.
Green finished the day 5 for 9 with four RBIs and raised his average to .344. Taylor was 5 for 9 as ETSU’s top four hitters combined to bang out 19 hits.
“To come out and win two games in a row, that was awesome,” Freeman said.
The Bucs return to action at Appalachian State on Tuesday night. Their next A-Sun game isn’t until May 10, when they begin a three-game set at Mercer.