NASHVILLE — With ace Kerry Doane not starting on the mound, the last thing East Tennessee State needed was a poor start.
Vanderbilt broke loose for five first-inning runs and never looked back in a 9-1 whipping of the Buccaneers in an NCAA regional baseball opener Friday night at the Commodores’ field.
“It was our worst fears come true,” said ETSU head coach Tony Skole, who made the decision not to start Doane because of a recent bout with strep throat. “We preached that we wanted to get off to a good start, but we gave up a five spot. That allowed Vanderbilt to play very relaxed with a pitcher who is extremely tough.”
The Buccaneers (36-23) were playing in their first regional since 1981.
Seeded No. 2 overall, the Commodores (52-9) strung together six singles — including five straight — in the first inning off Bucs’ starter Jimmy Nesselt to take a commanding lead. Conrad Gregor’s two-run single up the middle sparked the inning.
Eventually Nesselt settled in and knocked off 15 straight batters. However, he was touched for three unearned runs in the seventh inning after a throwing error.
Nesselt’s night ended when Conner Harrell clubbed a two-run homer, his 12th of the season. Nesselt allowed 10 hits and eight runs in 6 2/3 innings.
“Jimmy got control of the game and was cruising in the middle innings,” said Skole. “He gave us an opportunity to get back in the game. We just couldn’t get that timely hit.”
Kevin Ziomek (11-2) got the win for the ‘Dores, allowing just one run on three hits with five strikeouts.
Dylan Tritsch had two hits for the Bucs while Clinton Freeman drove in the Bucs’ lone run.
Harrell and Gregor each had two hits and two RBIs for Vandy while Rhett Wiseman and Xavier Turner added two hits apiece.
Nesselt fell to 2-3 on the season. Doane (13-1) will start today at 3 p.m. when the Bucs face an elimination game against Georgia Tech.
“Both pitchers were prepared to start all week,” said Skole. “We just weren’t sure with Kerry’s illness if he would be fresh enough after throwing a complete game Sunday in the (Atlantic Sun tournament) championship game. We didn’t feel he would be 100 percent.
“We want to win this regional. We didn’t want to just make a good showing. Our backs are against the wall, and we feel good with our ace going.”