(Photos below by Lee Talbert/Johnson City Press)
Jimmy Nesselt says he could have gone a couple of more innings.
As it turned out, nine was enough. And they were nine good ones.
Nesselt pitched his first complete game of the season, and Kevin Phillips blasted a long three-run home run, as East Tennessee State's baseball team opened its final home series of the season with a convincing 7-2 victory over Mercer on Thursday night at Thomas Stadium.
"I think this was probably our most complete game of the year," said ETSU coach Tony Skole, whose team improved to 25-27 overall, 12-12 in the Atlantic Sun Conference. "We really played well in every aspect of the game."
Nesselt improved to 7-5. The junior righty threw 127 pitches.
"I really didn't expect anything like that tonight," Nesselt said. "I knew my team needed me to get a quality start and keep them in the game. I just got comfortable and got in a groove."
Asked if he had anything left in the tank, Nesselt laughed and said "I think I could go two or three more."
The only two runs Nesselt allowed came on solo home runs. He held the Bears (37-14 overall, 17-9 A-Sun) to seven hits while striking out seven and walking two.
Phillips broke a 1-1 tie with his three-run homer in the sixth inning. Clinton Freeman, who had three hits for the Bucs, doubled to lead off the sixth inning and Chris Riopedre reached base on a passed ball after striking out.
Phillips then launched a shot that slammed high off the scoreboard in left field and back onto the field. Mercer's left fielder Nate Moorehouse never even moved, just turning his head to see how far the ball would go.
"I kind of lost it in the lights, but I heard it hit the scoreboard," Phillips said. "It felt good because I had been struggling."
Derrick Workman had given Mercer a 1-0 lead in the top of the fourth inning with a solo home run to left field.
The Bucs didn't trail for long as Freeman belted his league-leading 12th homer of the season, a deep shot to right-center, to make it 1-1.
After Phillips' homer put the Bucs up 4-1, Mercer's Nick Backlund went deep -- real deep -- in the seventh inning. His solo shot over the cars behind the left field fence made it 4-2.
Riopedre's two-run double in the bottom of the seventh put ETSU up 6-2 and Matt Sorrow added an RBI single in the eighth for an insurance run.
Nesselt finished the victory in style by striking out the side in the ninth inning.
"I couldn't think of a better way to cap it than that, 1-2-3 in the ninth and striking out the side," he said.
Trey York also had three hits for the Bucs, who out-hit the Bears 13-7. No Mercer player had more than one hit.
The two teams will play again today at 7:05 p.m. and close the regular season Saturday at 1:05 p.m.