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Kelly Hodge

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Bucs in the mix of split A-Sun baseball race

April 16th, 2014 8:57 pm by Kelly Hodge

Bucs in the mix of split A-Sun baseball race

There’s getting to be a clear split as the Atlantic Sun Conference baseball race nears its midpoint. Four teams have winning records, and everyone else is at least two games under .500.

East Tennessee State is hanging in the top tier as it prepares to open a three-game series tonight at Jacksonville. The Bucs (18-17 overall) are in fourth place at 7-5 after sweeping North Florida last weekend.

They could enhance their position, with the Dolphins (12-24, 6-9) experiencing a relatively down year so far. Of course, the Bucs have yet to face two of the top teams in Florida Gulf Coast and Mercer.

They were swept by Lipscomb, which is leading the standings at 12-3.

Clinton Freeman continues to put up good numbers at the plate for the Bucs.

The senior from Jonesborough leads the team with a .367 batting average — he’s the only player above .300 — and is tied for the A-Sun lead in homers, with eight. His RBI total of 41 is second in the league.

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The Bucs return home for a rematch with Tennessee next Tuesday night, and there reportedly were less than 100 reserved tickets remaining earlier this week. They’re $10 each and can be purchased online (etsubucs.com) until noon Monday, or by calling the ticket office at 439-3878.

Fans are encouraged to use the former method, which allows them to print their tickets at home after receiving an email.

Gametime is 7:05 at Thomas Stadium. There will be a pre-game concert at 4 sponsored by University Edge featuring the Breakfast Club.

The Bucs defeated the Vols 2-1 on April 1 in Knoxville.

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Wednesday was the start of the spring signing period, but ETSU had nothing to report officially in basketball.

Humboldt guard Desonta Bradford verbally committed to the Bucs a few days back, and he reportedly signed his national letter of intent. But the paperwork had yet to make its way through the proper channels at ETSU.

Bradford, the Class A Mr. Basketball in the state, will likely become an official signee today.

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Women’s basketball coach Brittney Ezell lost only one senior from her first ETSU team, but she still has three scholarships to play with. Her recruiting mission is fairly straight-forward at this point.

“We’ve got to find kids with leadership capabilities,” Ezell said Wednesday, the first day of the national signing period. “We’re really struggling to find a leader to emerge from last year’s group, especially at point guard.”

Brianna McQueen, a sophomore, started 19 games this season before being dismissed for violating team rules.

The Lady Bucs were also racked by injuries, beginning with all-conference forward Destiny Mitchell and ending with Cara Bowling, their leading scorer. Mitchell redshirted, underwent knee surgery and finished the season practicing with the team, which finished 9-21.

“We’ve got a pretty good group coming back, and I’m excited about their progress,” said Ezell. “They’ve made a lot of gains in the weight room, and I think they understand now what to expect. The standard is the standard. I’m not going to pat you on the head for doing what you’re supposed to do. You gotta go above and beyond.”

Ezell may turn to the junior-college ranks for a player or two this spring. She hopes to have the class completed by early May.

“Destiny will kind of be like part of this recruiting class, getting her back,” said Ezell. “Cara was hurt the last 12-14 games, so it will be good to get her back. We just need to find one or two more that can help.”

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The good news for the softball team is that it has already won as many conference games this season as the last three seasons combined. The bad news: it still has an uphill battle to qualify for the tournament.

At 5-13, the Bucs stand ninth in the A-Sun, ahead of only Northern Kentucky, which is 1-17 and ineligible for postseason play anyway. They were 16-25 overall heading into a non-conference double-header at home Wednesday against Furman.

The Bucs haven’t made the conference tournament, which includes only the top six teams, since 2009. Not even close. The last three seasons they were a combined 5-58.

Nine games remain on the A-Sun schedule, and earning a tournament spot looks like a longshot. Six of the games are on the road, beginning with three at Jacksonville this weekend, and the last three are at home against nationally ranked USC Upstate, the conference frontrunner.

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The Game Time Tour of ETSU coaches and administrators will make a stop in Greeneville tonight. It begins with a meet-and-greet at 6:30 at the General Morgan Inn, followed by a tailgate-style meal.

Tickets are available at the door for $15.

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