DeLAND, Fla. — It was a battle of aces, and East Tennessee State won it hands down.
Kerry Doane pitched a four-hitter Sunday, leading the Bucs to a 7-2 victory over Kennesaw State in the championship game of the Atlantic Sun Conference tournament. ETSU (36-22) earned its first NCAA tournament bid since 1981.
The NCAA pairings will be announced today at noon. The selection show will be on ESPNU and NCAA.com. A viewing party, with the team in attendance, will be held at Poor Richard’s Deli.
“The guys found a way,” ETSU coach Tony Skole said. “I’ve been waiting a long time, I’ll tell you that. Couldn’t be more proud of our players, our trainers, our managers. My assistant coaches are tremendous.
“Our guys just kept improving as the year went on, showed a tremendous amount of toughness.”
Working on three days rest, Doane (13-1) threw 117 pitches in his nation-leading 12th complete game of the season. The senior righty was chosen as the tournament’s MVP. He worked nine innings without a decision in ETSU’s opening victory over Stetson.
And he did it while he was sick. Skole said he was alerted by head trainer Brian Johnson earlier in the day that Doane wasn’t going to be 100 percent.
“I think Kerry’s got strep throat,” Skole said. “That performance today ... we pumped him up with antibiotics and we were pumping fluids into him the whole game. You look at that performance even if he’s feeling great, it’s unbelievable. But the way he was feeling, it’s quite remarkable.
“I’ve never seen anything like it. That young man’s just a fighter.”
Doane, the league’s pitcher of the year, out-dueled Kennesaw State’s Stephen Janas, who came into the game leading the country with a .86 ERA. It was a couple of unearned runs that began Janas’ undoing.
Clinton Freeman led off the second inning with a single. After Derek Niesman added a one-out single to put runners on the corners, Alex Reynolds bunted. Janas picked up the ball and threw it wildly to home, allowing Freeman to score. The fourth-seeded Bucs tried to bunt for another run when Chris Riopedre laid one down, but Janas threw Niesman out at the plate for the second out.
After Dylan Tritsch doubled off of Janas in the third, he scored when Freeman reached on a throwing error by Kennesaw State shortstop Kal Simmons.
Doane gave one run back when his throwing error allowed Kennesaw State to score in the fourth inning.
Freeman singled in a run in thew fifth inning to make it 3-1.
Janas worked 5 1/3 innings and allowed eight hits. He left the game in the sixth with two runners on just before Jeremy Taylor greeted reliever James Connell with a two-run single to make it 5-1.
The Kennesaw State ace’s ERA rose to 1.14. He allowed 10 earned runs this year, and ETSU scored four of them in the two meetings. Janas finished the season 9-1 after suffering his first loss of the season.
The Bucs added two more runs in the seventh when Taylor singled in Green, who reached on a single and stole second base, and Reynolds added a sacrifice fly.
Kennesaw State, the seventh seed, had beaten North Florida earlier in the day to advance to the final. The Owls finished 30-30.
Seven different players scored ETSU’s seven runs. Tritsch and Niesman each had three hits, while Freeman and Tritsch had two apiece.
“I’m proud of our guys,” Skole said. “They really rose to the occasion and played very well the last five or six weeks of the season. We got some momentum this week and rode it all the way out to the end.”
Niesman, Reynolds and Taylor joined Doane on the all-tournament team.