The East Tennessee State baseball team doesn’t have to play its way into the Atlantic Sun Conference tournament on the final weekend of the regular season.
That’s where Jacksonville finds itself.
The Dolphins visit Thomas Stadium for a three-game series with the Bucs beginning tonight. They come in tied for eighth place in the standings with USC Upstate, and only eight teams qualify for the A-Sun tournament next week in DeLand, Fla.
“There still may be a lot of shakeup this weekend,” ETSU coach Tony Skole said Wednesday, “but the one comforting thing is that we’re in the tournament. We just don’t know where we’re going to fall.
“Jacksonville is playing for their life, and they’re going to come in here ready.”
The six teams at the top of the standings have secured postseason berths, and it’s a tightly bunched group. Mercer leads the way with a 17-7 record after taking two of three from ETSU last weekend in Macon, Ga.
That left the Bucs in the fifth place at 14-10. They are 29-22 overall.
“I’m disappointed because last weekend we had a chance to play for the league lead and weren’t able to get it done,” said Skole. “Mercer is just an older team that plays with a lot of confidence. They always make things tough on you.”
The Bucs took the opener in Macon thanks to a brilliant performance by pitcher Kerry Doane. The senior right-hander allowed the 21st-ranked Bears just five hits in a 1-0 victory.
The complete game was his 10th of the season, which leads the nation, and boosted his record to 11-1. He has four shutouts and an earned-run average of 2.15.
Doane was named A-Sun pitcher of the week for the second time this season on Monday.
“Considering the circumstances in a big-time situation, that was as good a performance as I’ve ever seen a young man have,” said Skole, whose team won a 1-0 game for the first time since 2005. “Kerry is such a warrior on the mound. He just keeps his poise and goes after hitters.
“Looking ahead to the tournament, we have the one guy nobody in our league wants to face. And, if we survive, we may have the opportunity to use him more than once.”
Doane will be on the mound again tonight, shooting for his eighth consecutive victory to open a series, and he faces a much less daunting lineup than he saw a week ago.
Jacksonville has lost 12 of its last 15 games, and its struggles have been across the board this season. The Dolphins rank at or near the bottom of the conference in hitting, pitching and fielding.
The Bucs feature three of the top hitters in the league in first baseman Clinton Freeman (.351), centerfielder Andrew Green (.338) and leftfielder Dylan Tritsch (.332). Freeman is among the top three in RBI (54), home runs (10), doubles (18) and triples (4).
David Geno has been a goal-scoring machine for three seasons at ETSU. Now he’s taking his act nationally.
The junior striker from Kingsport scored four goals Tuesday night for the Seattle Sounders U-23 team in a 5-1 victory over Doxa Italia. The match was part of the U.S. Open Cup in Sumner, Wash.
Geno’s four goals came in a span of just 19 minutes in the first half.
“I was just on the end of some perfect balls,” he told the Seattle News Tribune after the match. “I had the easy part, really.”
Sounders coach Darren Sawatzky was certainly impressed with the outburst, which lifted his team into the second round of the tournament next week in Charlotte.
“Soccer’s a players game,” he said. “A young guy from Tennessee came out and said, ‘This is why I want to be in Seattle.’ If that’s any indication of where he’s headed, it’s a good pickup.”
Geno already holds most of the ETSU school records. As a junior, he collected 11 goals and eight assists to rank among the national leaders.
The Dobyns-Bennett product now has 23 goals and 16 assists in his college career. That surpasses the previous marks set by Aaron Schoenfeld, now with the Columbus Crew of the MLS.
ETSU has wrapped up the Jesse C. Fletcher Trophy, symbolic of the men’s all-sports race in the Atlantic Sun, for the eighth straight year.
The Bucs lead Florida Gulf Coast by 33 points in the eight-sport competition, with only baseball yet to be decided. They didn’t win any regular-season championships but were second in tennis, golf and cross country. (Championships are worth 30 points, with descending finishes each three points less.)
The ETSU women, meanwhile, are third in the race for the Sherman Day Trophy, behind Florida Gulf Coast and North Florida.
Gulf Coast leads ETSU in the combined standings despite not competing in track and field.
A special graduation ceremony was conducted Tuesday morning in the Culp Center ballroom for athletes who were unable to attend the normal commencement last Saturday.
The baseball team was on the road at Mercer, while the track and field teams were at the A-Sun outdoor championships in Jacksonville. Also, the softball team had to previously commit to the ceremony since the conference tournament was held last weekend; it didn’t qualify for the field.
Fifteen graduates were honored in a ceremony that drew about 250 people.
“I was really impressed with the number of people, university personnel and fellow student-athletes who were on hand to support their teammates,” said interim athletic director Richard Sander. “I think it is really special that president Noland, the vice presidents and the deans make the effort to be there for 15 student-athletes. It is a strong statement about how important graduating our student-athletes is to the university.”