Mason Hershey (34) and Andrew Green celebrate the walk-off RBI single (Romeo Guzman/ASun.com photo).
DeLAND Fla. — East Tennessee State continued its walk-off magic on Saturday.
Senior Andrew Green hit a chopper through the right side in the bottom of the ninth that scored Mason Hershey and gave ETSU a 4-3 win over USC Upstate in the Atlantic Sun baseball championship at Stetson’s Melching Field.
ETSU, which picked up its sixth consecutive win, advanced to its second-ever A-Sun championship game. The Bucs also reached the conference title game in 2006.
The Bucs (35-22) will face the winner of today’s North Florida and Kennesaw State game in a winner-take-all championship at approximately 4:15 p.m. with an automatic berth in the NCAA tournament on the line.
Kennesaw and North Florida play today’s first game at 1 and the championship will follow 35 minutes after the conclusion of that game. The Owls held off elimination by defeating the Ospreys 5-2 on Saturday, handing Stetson its first loss of the tournament. The possibility for an if necessary game today was removed by the conference after weather forced schedule changes throughout the week.
ETSU’s last trip to the NCAA was in 1981 under head coach Charley Lodes. The Bucs went 2-2 in the Atlantic Regional with wins over Clemson and Wichita State, and pair of losses to Mississippi State.
The Bucs were back-to-back Southern Conference champs that year. In 1980’s NCAA Atlantic Regional, ETSU beat Georgia Southern, but lost to Clemson and South Carolina.
All of the Bucs’ wins in this week’s A-Sun tournament have come in the final at-bat. Green scored the game-winning run in a 7-4 affair against Mercer on Friday, and ETSU beat host-team Stetson 4-3 on the opening day.
The Bucs tied it up twice Saturday, scoring two runs in the fourth and one in the eighth. Alex Reynolds drove in a run apiece on a pair of grounders. The first plated Kevin Phillips on a throwing error in the second, and the other scored Green on a fielder’s choice to make it 3-3 in the eighth.
Derek Niesman, who singled to put Phillips on third in the second, made it 2-2 in that inning, scoring on an ground out by Hershey.
Green’s walk-off single came off Upstate’s all-conference second team closer Chad Sobotka. Sobotka walked the first two batters he faced in the inning and Dylan Tritsch layed down a sacrifice bunt to put the winning run on third. After fouling off the first pitch and taking a ball on the second, Green’s chopper brought the Bucs out of the dugout to celebrate another late win.
ETSU junior Will Chesney pitched the top of the final inning to pick up the win, working out of a one-out jam to improve to 4-2. Chesney hit a batter and committed a throwing error on a sacrifice-bunt attempt to put two runners on with one out. He settled down and got the next two batters out at the plate on a fly out and pop out.
Jared Burton worked four solid innings of relief for the Bucs, retiring eight of the last nine batters he faced. He held the Spartans to one run on two hits and struck out three in a season-high innings pitched. Logan Rice started and allowed two runs on eight hits and fanned three in four innings.
Six ETSU batters each had one the Bucs’ six hits. Niesman extended his streak of consecutive games with a hit to 15 with his single in the fourth. Green has reached base safely in 21 straight games.
Four of the Spartans’ batters had two-hit games and Sobotka was dealt the loss after allowing one run on one hit with two walks in 1 1/3 innings of relief. He finished the year at 1-5, while Upstate ended at 28-30.