After finishing what it started Thursday, East Tennessee State’s baseball team never got untracked in Friday’s regularly scheduled game at Thomas Stadium.
The Buccaneers resumed play from Thursday’s game with a 5-0 lead in the bottom of the seventh and went on to win 6-1 against North Florida, but struck out 14 times while losing game two of the three-game series, 5-2.
ETSU’s John Long won the opener thanks to the seven shutout innings he pitched Thursday. Long allowed three hits, one walk and struck out five while improving to 5-3.
“John Long was phenomenal,” ETSU coach Tony Skole said. “He had a great outing for us.”
Sophomore left-hander Clinton Freeman pitched the final two innings of the ETSU victory Friday. The David Crockett graduate was 2-for-3 with three runs and hit his fifth home run. Freeman also had two hits in the nightcap and reached base three times, but North Florida starter Kyle Westwood had little trouble otherwise.
The 6-foot-3 right-handed junior struck out 10 and walked one while allowing five hits and two runs in 62â„3 innings. One of the runs he allowed came after he hit Andrew Green with a two-out pitch. Green stole second and scored on Freeman’s single to get ETSU (4-7, 15-13) within 3-1 in the bottom of the third.
The other run came after Alex Reynolds reached on a two-out single in the sixth, a chopper that looked harmless until it hit first base. Matthew Scruggs followed with an RBI double.
Westwood then hit Green a second time, which brought the tying run to the plate in the form of Freeman.
North Florida coach Raymond “Smoke” Laval, whose Ospreys (3-8, 19-14) beat No. 1 Florida 10-5 on Tuesday, opted to go to left-handed reliever Evan Stermer, who struck out Freeman.
“He threw me a curveball he left over the plate that I pulled off of a little bit,” Freeman said. “I’ve been hitting pretty good off of lefties.”
Skole was nonetheless lauding Freeman afterward — his team-leading .376 average is 66 points higher than any teammate — but little else about the Bucs’ bats.
“The kid can flat-out hit,” Skole said. “He’s got a low-maintenance swing and he’s fun to watch. He has a good plan and a good approach every time he goes up to the plate, and that’s something some of our young hitters — I have no idea what they’re thinking sometimes.”
Spot starter Jimmy Nesselt allowed five runs in 51â„3 innings for ETSU. He gave up eight hits, one walk and struck out six. Andrew Karmeris was 2-for-5 with a double, home run and two RBIs for the Ospreys.
“Jimmy Nesselt made a couple of mistakes up in the zone,” Skole said. “And tip your hats to them; they got some big hits. But he pitched well enough for us to win tonight and kept us in the ballgame. But we just really couldn’t solve their pitching staff tonight.
“Westwood, boy, he was tough. He was a tough matchup for us. He was in the low-90s all night and really sticking that breaking ball in there. He made it really difficult for our hitters. But, you know, it’s like I told our guys after the game, when you strike out 14 times — and I want to say at least half of those with runners in scoring position — you’re not giving yourself an opportunity to win. ... That’s basically five innings where they don’t even have to have a glove on.”
Laval likes having 6-foot-2 right-handed sophomore Tyler Moore (3-1, 2.30 ERA) on the mound for today’s rubber game (1:05 p.m.). He said Moore might be the staff’s premier pitcher.
Skole is similarly at ease about having Jake Long (2-2, 2.27 ERA) pitching today.
“Jake Long is gonna give us a great chance,” Skole said. “I tell you, he’s got an electric arm. He’s a low-90s guy with a really good power slider and changeup. He can really pitch. So we need him to be at his best tomorrow.
“It’s a big game for us as far as conference standings and where we need to be. For us to get back in the race, you hate to say it, but this is a must-win for us.”