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Kelly Hodge

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Bucs slice Big Orange down to size

April 23rd, 2014 7:31 pm by Kelly Hodge

Bucs slice Big Orange down to size

There was a time not too long ago when the East Tennessee State baseball team shrunk at the mere sight of those orange Tennessee jerseys. Not anymore.

The Bucs completed a season sweep of the Vols with their 9-7 victory Tuesday night at Thomas Stadium. They’ve now won seven of the last 10 games between the teams, though UT still owns a commanding 58-16 lead in the series.

“I don’t know the answer as to why we’ve been playing them so well lately,” ETSU coach Tony Skole said Wednesday. “My first few years here, every time we lined up with them we had that deer-in-the-headlights look. That happens to a lot of mid-majors against BCS programs.

“About ’06 we broke through, and the kids started to say there’s really not that much separation in the talent level. And baseball is a strange game anyway. Anybody can beat anybody on a given night.”

The Bucs and Vols drew a record crowd of 1,811 to Thomas Stadium. And there were fans standing all around the perimeter of the park as a festive atmosphere of food, drink and music prevailed on a gray day.

“It was a great atmosphere, just electricity running through the park,” said Skole. “We’re blessed with a great place to watch a game, and when we sell out, it takes everything to another level.”

The Bucs (20-18) but didn’t have much time to rest on their laurels. They hosted Radford on Wednesday night.

The defending Atlantic Sun Conference champions are still trying to improve their position for the postseason. They currently stand fourth, at 8-6, but are just two games out in the loss column as they look toward a weekend series at Kennesaw State.

The Owls (8-9) are right behind the Bucs in the standings and fresh off a 2-1 victory over Georgia. ETSU has yet to face the frontrunners, Mercer and Florida Gulf Coast.

“I’m just glad we control our own destiny,” said Skole. “Like most coaches, there are five or six games I’d like to go back and play again. We just weren’t playing well early in the year, just couldn’t put pressure on teams with our offense.

“We’re doing a much better job of that now, but we still have to keep putting wins together.”

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The men’s golf team wasn’t able to claim the automatic bid to an NCAA regional, but coach Fred Warren thinks a third-place finish at the Atlantic Sun tournament still leaves the Bucs in good shape.

Mercer won its first-ever A-Sun championship Tuesday in Braselton, Ga., with a six-stroke victory over Kennesaw State. ETSU was 10 shots back, at 20 over par, at the Legends at Chateau Elan course.

“The conference is very strong this year; we were the fourth-ranked team coming in,” said Warren. “I still think a regional bid is very likely. We have to wait for all the conferences to finish their tournaments, but the rule of thumb has been if you rank 65 or better, you stand a good chance.

“The fact we’re in the 50s now gives us a bit of a cushion.”

Fields for the six regionals, which encompass 81 teams, will be announced on May 5.

ETSU was shooting for its first A-Sun championship since 2010. Mercer, a charter member of the league, had never finished higher than second – and that was in 1993.

Of course, both schools are moving on to the Southern Conference next year.

“When we first went into the A-Sun, the Southern Conference was a lot stronger,” said Warren, who is in his 28th season at ETSU. “We set the bar in the A-Sun early on, and now we’ll probably have four teams in the regionals. The SoCon will have one, maybe two.

“Things will change next year with us and Mercer moving.”

Warren thinks better times are ahead for the Bucs, whose lineup this week featured a junior, three sophomores and a freshman. Adrian Meronk and Rhys Pugh tied for fifth individually, and Chris Hickman tied for seventh.

“We didn’t play bad but didn’t play great,” said Warren. “With the young guys we’ve got, you can’t be too critical. Everybody will be back next year, and we have some good players coming in. The future looks pretty good.”

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Brett Squibbs has been steadily one-upping himself with school records in the pole vault, and the freshman from Rock Hill, S.C., added to the list with a runner-up finish Saturday at Auburn.

Squibbs vaulted 5.20 meters in the War Eagle Invitational, eclipsing his previous mark of 5.10. A new ETSU women’s record was also set at the meet by sophomore Ashley Kessler, whose best of 3.95 left her seventh in the field. Katerina Vodova had set the old record of 3.80 just a week earlier.

ETSU got its lone victory at Auburn from Verena Tobis in the javelin. The sophomore from Germany turned in a personal best of 45.99 meters.

Meanwhile, Matt Warriner finished second in the 1500 with a run of 3:58.68, and Dede Edgecombe was third in the women’s 100 hurdles with a wind-aided 13.37. The ETSU team of Mike Williams, Thomas Miller, Jonathan Foote and Ryan Jones was third in the 4x400 relay.

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Jacksonville wasn’t the place to be playing outdoors last weekend, as persistent rains wreaked havoc with scheduled events.

The A-Sun tennis tournament at North Florida was finally completed late Sunday after losing a full day of competition, with ETSU taking home the men’s and women’s trophies. The Bucs weren’t as fortunate in softball.

After winning the opening game of their series at Jacksonville, rains forced cancellation of the final two games. That kept the Bucs from possibly gaining more ground on a playoff berth.

At this point, standing eighth with a 6-13 league record, they may need to win out to have a chance to get one of the six spots for the A-Sun tournament. They have three games this weekend at Kennesaw State, the sixth-place team, and finish the regular season at home against front-running USC Upstate.

The Bucs (18-26) ran into more weather problems Tuesday when their doubleheader at Liberty was postponed. The teams will try again tonight.

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The Game Time Tour of ETSU coaches and administrators makes its fourth stop today with a luncheon at the Morristown Country Club, beginning at 11:30 a.m. Tickets are $15.

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