As far as opening acts go, the East Tennessee State baseball team hit a home run. Once the game began, so did Matthew Scruggs.
Scruggs hit the first home run in Thomas Stadium history and John Long pitched six strong innings as the Bucs opened their new park Friday with an 8-3 victory over Eastern Kentucky.
“I’m glad to be out here and to get going,” said Scruggs, who was 2 for 4 with two RBIs and three runs. “I got a good pitch to swing at and took care of it. It definitely felt like a dream. I’ve been dreaming about playing here for four years.”
With an enthusiastic crowd enjoying bright sunshine and warm weather for the middle of February — and watching the home team win — Thomas Stadium’s opening had to be considered a success. ETSU’s new president, Brian Noland, threw out the ceremonial first pitch.
“It was a really marvelous day,” ETSU coach Tony Skole said. “We had a great crowd out here and once again I want to thank all the people who have been working so hard at this site and the university administration that made it happen. It was a great way to kick off a new era at Thomas Stadium.”
Long gave up four hits in his six innings of work, allowing two earned runs while striking out seven and earned the first win at the new stadium. Several times he appeared to be in trouble but got out of jams with key strikeouts.
“Everybody was really excited to play here,” Long said. “Everybody’s emotions were running real high, but we had to harness that excitement.”
It was the kind of performance Skole was expecting from his senior righty.
“He was phenomenal,” Skole said. “John, number one, he’s a warrior. He’s a hard-nosed kid, a hard worker. And he’s talented. He makes it tough on hitters.
“There were probably four or five times where we gave them a little momentum or they got a little momentum.
He really came back and made a great pitch and got the next hitter.”
The Bucs took the early lead in the second inning when catcher Zach Waters got the first hit, a solid single to left that scored Dylan Pratt for a 1-0 advantage.
Clinton Freeman’s two-run single in the third made it 3-0. After Eastern Kentucky got a run on an RBI single by Austin Grisham, Scruggs connected on his homer in the fourth. It was a two-run shot over the left-field wall into a crowd of fans watching from the parking lot at a nearby apartment complex. That put the Bucs up 5-1.
Kerry Doane added a two-run single in the sixth and the Bucs scored another run on a wild pitch.
The Colonels got solo home runs by Shaun Ball and Michael Garcia.
Derek Bushey pitched two innings of no-hit relief for ETSU. Losing pitcher Chase Greene walked five batters in 2 2/3 innings. Brian Soloman had two hits for the Colonels.
“This is going to be a nice place,” Eastern Kentucky coach Jason Stein said. “Tony’s program deserves this. ETSU baseball deserves this. I like it. The surface is good. Fifty-five and sunny ... can’t beat that.”
The two teams will play a doubleheader today at 11:05 a.m. The two games were originally scheduled for today and Sunday, but were changed because of Sunday’s weather forecast.
Freeman, who had two hits, will start on the mound for the Bucs in the first game. Jake Long, brother of Friday’s winning pitcher, gets the nod in the nightcap.