The lineup card says Andrew Green is East Tennessee State’s one and only center fielder. But ask anybody on the team and they’ll tell you the Bucs have three.
Green teams with Dylan Tritsch and Jeremy Taylor to form one of the fastest group of outfielders in college baseball, and it’s the best defensive unit in recent ETSU history.
The Bucs will be counting on a lot of help from their stellar outfield when the Atlantic Sun Conference baseball tournament begins this morning at Deland, Fla.
Green has been a stalwart in center. Tritsch plays left field and Taylor is in right. They have combined to make a grand total of two errors — one by Tritsch and one by Taylor — this season while flagging down all kinds of balls in the gaps.
“It’s such a luxury to have those guys out there,” said ETSU coach Tony Skole, whose team opens the tournament today at 10 a.m. against homestanding Stetson. “Coach Matt Landreth has done a great job with those guys. Every ball that goes up in the air, they seem to get to. They really shrink the field.”
The fourth-seeded Bucs enter the A-Sun tournament, being held at Stetson’s Melching Stadium, 32-22. Stetson, the fifth seed, comes in 26-29.
“They’re awesome out there,” said Doane, who became the first Buc to be chosen as the A-Sun pitcher of the year on Tuesday. “They really help you as a pitcher. I used to be a position player, and you really don’t realize how much they can help you until you’re on the mound.
“You see a ball hit out there and think it’s getting down ... and they get it. It’s a huge difference with their speed. I’d put them up against anybody in the country.”
The outfield is a big reason the pitching staff’s 4.22 ERA is the fourth-lowest in school history and the lowest since 1982.
Green mans the middle, but the other two consider themselves center fielders at heart. That’s the position they’ve played most of their lives.
“Obviously, Green being a senior, he’s got priority,” Tritsch said. “We’re all center fielders. I think we have the best outfield in the conference. Actually, there’s no doubt we have the best outfield in the conference.”
During the team’s preseason media day, Green talked about having the fastest group of outfielders he’s ever seen, and 54 games into the season, they’ve proven him correct.
“I knew coming in this past fall, a ball hit in the gap, hitters knew we’re gonna get to it,” Green said. “Our speed really shows. In my four years, this is the best talent we’ve had in the outfield.”
Skole estimated that Green has made 15 diving catches this season. He’s made the spectacular look routine, especially on sinking line drives that he snags while sliding on his chest.
“I’ve always been able to get good reads off the bat, which helps me make those diving plays,” Green said.
The other two have made some spectacular catches as well. More than once this season, they’ve all made one in the same game.
“We work hard,” said Taylor, a freshman. “We just play good as a unit, communicating and taking chances because we know the other person’s gonna be there backing up. It’s a great advantage. We cut off balls in the outfield and prevent runs.”
The three don’t just use their speed in the field. They’ve been exciting on the basepaths as well. Green finished the regular season tied for the A-Sun lead with 20 stolen bases. Taylor (19) and Tritsch (18) are also in the top five. They helped the Bucs steal more bases than any other team in the league.
“It’s fun to watch them run,” Skole said. “We had all three of them on base at the same time and somebody on the bench said ‘Look at all that speed out there.’ ”
The Bucs are hoping to make some noise in the A-Sun tournament. They went 17-10 in the league this season and have beaten every team in the conference at least once. They lost two out of three at Stetson. Doane pitched in the win.
“Stetson is probably the most tradition-rich team in our league,” Skole said. “I’m excited for our kids to get to play in that environment. It’ll be packed with 2,500 people in the stands. It’ll be an electric atmosphere.”
Clinton Freeman leads the Bucs in hitting at .344 with 10 home runs and 55 RBIs. Green is second at .336, has scored a team-high 52 runs and has reached safely in 18 consecutive games.
Tritsch is hitting .320 and Derek Niesman has a 12-game hitting streak, which has raised his average to .295.
The winner of today’s game takes on the winner of the Mercer-USC-Upstate game. The losers of those two games will meet as well. The tournament is double elimination.