Clinton Freeman had East Tennessee State baseball coach Tony Skole marveling at his effort in the batting cage Saturday morning.
By Saturday evening, the senior left-hander had everyone at Thomas Stadium marveling at his performance on the field.
Freeman hit a pair of two-run home runs to lift the Bucs to a 6-3 victory over Northern Kentucky. The two-run blasts came against entirely different pitches. The first time Freeman homered in the second inning, it was against a 3-0 fastball. His game-winning home run in the eighth inning was off a change-up, and three innings after Norse pitcher Wendell Wright had walked him in his last at-bat.
“I hit the fastball out, so I knew they were trying to beat me with a change-up,” Freeman said after hitting the 21st and 22nd home runs of his collegiate career. “They had thrown me some curveballs trying to get me out. I didn’t know what I was going to get. I just tried to react and get my foot down early. Coach Skole and coach (Ian) Barksdale had been staying on me about getting my best swing off.
“I just tried to stay tough and be a tough out, and then I was able to get the best swing off. It really looks like I am sitting on that pitch, but I’m just trying to stay back, keeping my bat speed up and getting my best swing off.”
Skole enjoyed the performance, both as his coach and as a spectator. He talked about seeing Freeman earlier in the day and the effort he gave to make himself a better hitter.
“We didn’t take batting practice outside today because of the weather,” Skole said. “We had a little extra time and I walking out of the locker room to head up to my office and I look over in the batting cage and there’s Clinton Freeman by himself.
“He’s throwing a ball up, doing a little drill on the path of his swing. We worked on it about 15 minutes and he’s dropping sweat trying to get his swing right. That’s the perfect example of what he’s all about. Every bit of success he has, he deserves because he works so hard.”
The hard work certainly paid off Saturday as Freeman finished 3 for 3 with four RBIs. He reached base four times, including the walk and a hard-hit single, also to right field. It was the third time in his career he has hit two home runs in a game, and the first time since Feb. 2013 against Seton Hall.
If Freeman’s heroics at the plate weren’t enough, he came in as the closer in the ninth inning to record his sixth save of the year.
As a team, the Bucs improved to 13-12 overall and 4-1 in the Atlantic Sun Conference. It was their fourth win in the last five games, and the first time they’ve had a winning record since March 1.
“We’ve started to practice better the last two weeks,” Skole said. “We weren’t even practicing well. When you don’t practice well, you can’t expect to play well. I’ve noticed the last two weeks, we’ve been able to execute some fundamental things in practice and it’s paid off on the field. Hopefully, it’s a sign of more things to come.”
Freshman third baseman Chris Cook extended a streak of safely reaching base to a 12th straight game. He had an infield single in the bottom of the first, which was followed by Freeman’s first homer for a 2-0 Bucs lead.
The Norse (6-18, 1-4) responded in the top of the third with a RBI double by Kyle Colletta. They would take the lead three innings later when Jordan Procyshen blasted a two-run home run off ETSU starter Jimmy Nesselt.
Northern Kentucky couldn’t hold on as Cook walked in the eighth and Freeman homered at nearly the same spot over right field he did in the second for a 4-3 Bucs lead.
As a freshman batting in the No. 2 slot, Cook’s focus has been to simply get on base and let those behind him do the rest.
“I’ve just been taking a lot of pitches, trying to scrap, get on base any way possible,” Cook said. “I feel it’s the best way I can help my team out. Of course, it’s nice to have Freeman behind me.”
After the go-ahead score, Zach Thompson was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded and Matt Sorrow added a RBI ground out which accounted for the final two runs.
Also for the Bucs, Tyler Roach ended 2 for 4 with a run scored.
On the mound, Nesselt went seven innings, giving up six hits and three runs before giving way to Will Chesney, who improved to 2-1 after retiring three batters in the eighth.
“Jimmy Nesselt is the horse of our staff,” Skole said. “We had another quality start. We’ve got to score more runs for him. It seems we don’t give him enough run support, but I’m real proud of Will Chesney who pitched a great eighth inning for us. Of course, Clinton closed it out and we were able to win the series today.”
Wright (1-2) suffered the loss after he gave up nine hits, five walks and six runs (all earned) in 7 1/3 innings.
The Bucs will go for the series sweep today at 1:05 p.m. with freshman southpaw Jamin McCann to make the start.comments powered by Disqus