Kevin Phillips celebrates his tying home run in the eighth inning. (Romeo Guzman/ASunphotos.com)
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DeLAND Fla. — The “Extra-Inning Kids” were at it again on Friday.
The East Tennessee State baseball team became the first team in Atlantic Sun Conference history to win two extra-inning games in a league tournament, beating No. 23 Mercer 7-4 in the second round.
“Our guys, they got a good belief going right,” ETSU coach Tony Skole said. “They’re playing with a great amount of energy and passion. It’s fun to watch. There is not a lot of panic in our dugout. We have really stressed tougness to our kids this year. These guys have a nice steady resolve in them.”
The Bucs are the only undefeated team in their four-team bracket and are one more win away from playing for the A-Sun championship and automatic NCAA tournment berth. They will play again today at 1:15 p.m. against either USC-Upstate or Mercer.
Trailing 3-0 through four innings, ETSU fought back and eventually tied at 4-4 on freshman Kevin Phillips’ solo home run in the eighth. Two days fter a walk-off, 11th-inning victory over Stetson, the Bucs got three runs in the 10th to beat the Bears.
“It’s just a big win,” Skole said. “Mercer is just an unbelievable ballclub, They’re tough to beat. Our guys hung in there and we really had some big hits.”
It was ETSU’s first postseason win over Mercer in four tries.
Andrew Green, who set the ETSU career stolen-base record, scored the eventual game-winning run on a wild pitch in the top of the 10th. Junior Clinton Freeman picked up his second straight tournament win by tossing the final three innings out of the bullpen. ETSU improved to 7-0 in extra-inning games this season.
“We don’t quit and we know we have a good bullpen,” Freeman said. “It’s just confidence that we can come back to win any game.”
The two-out homer by Phillips was his lone hit of the game, but it was the second time in his last three games the A-Sun All-Freshmen selection has recorded a round-tripper. Meanwhile, Green went 1-for-4 with a walk and has now reached base safely in 21 straight games. The speedster swiped his 76th base of his career in the sixth inning to break Tony Martin’s record, set from 1980-83.
Senior Derek Niesman extended his hit streak to 14 games after going 3-for-5 with an RBI and a career-high three runs scored. Senior catcher Mason Hershey egistered his 13th multi-hit game of the campaign by finishing with two hits.
Overall, ETSU’s six-thru-nine hitters generated seven of its 11 hits for the game.
Freeman improved to 7-1 after holding Mercer’s offense scoreless in the final three innings and moved into a tie with Northern Kentucky’s Brett Loeding for the season lead in games finished at 21. The junior southpaw scattered three hits and struck out three in relief. Sophomore Jimmy Nesselt tossed seven strong innings in his fourth start after coming back from an arm injury suffered back in early March. Nesselt allowed four runs on seven hits and struck out a career-high seven batters in seven innings of work.
ETSU extended its win streak to five straight and moved to 34-22 on the season The 34 wins are tied for fourth all-time in program history (the 1982 team went 34-19). Mercer had its six-game win streak snapped and dropped to 43-15.