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Baseball Bucs ride momentum into SoCon opener

Joe Avento • Mar 22, 2018 at 11:00 PM

A bus will be the vehicle of choice when the East Tennessee State baseball team travels for its Southern Conference opener this weekend, but the Bucs will definitely be riding momentum into Birmingham, Alabama.

ETSU begins SoCon play with a three-game series against Samford, starting Friday afternoon. The 11-6 Bucs have won seven of their last nine games, including a rousing 9-6 victory over Tennessee on Tuesday. That one gave first-year ETSU coach Joe Pennucci a 2-0 record against the Vols.

Christian Bailey leads the Bucs with a .382 batting average and 20 RBIs. Ben Jackson is hitting .367 and Chris Cook is at .338.

Aaron Maher has been the team’s most versatile player, hitting .304 while playing the outfield and coming to the mound as the team’s closer with three saves. Starting pitcher Micah Kaczor has 38 strikeouts in 28 innings. He’s 2-1 with a 4.56 ERA.

Samford is 10-12 and coming off a 14-2 loss at Troy. The Bulldogs were picked third in the preseason SoCon polls. ETSU was picked fourth by the coaches, seventh by the media.

After returning from Samford, the Bucs play their next four games at home. UNC-Asheville comes to Thomas Stadium for a non-conference game on Tuesday, March 27, and SoCon favorite Mercer comes in Thursday, March 29 to start a three-game set.

Looking way ahead, mark your calendar. The Vols come to Johnson City on April 17 and although it’ll be a mid-week non-conference game, they’ll be coming to town with something to prove.

FOOTBALL

Greene Stadium will be the site of the football team’s first scrimmage of the spring on Saturday. It’ll be ETSU fans’ first chance to see new coach Randy Sanders’ team in action.

The scrimmage starts at 1 p.m. The event is open to the public, although anyone wanting to attend is being asked to send an email to Price Patrick at [email protected] or Kevin Brown at [email protected] ahead of time. Check-in will be at the southeast corner of the stadium.

It’s the first of three live events for the Bucs. They’re also scheduled to scrimmage on March 31 with the annual spring game set for April 5.

SOFTBALL

The softball team also opens conference play against Samford this weekend with home games at Betty Basler Field with a doubleheader set for Saturday at 1 p.m. and a single game on Sunday at 1 p.m.

The Bucs, defending SoCon tournament champions, bring a 12-13 record into the series.

Taylor Wright, a junior from Erwin, is hitting .380 to lead the team. Her four home runs tie Nikki Grupp for the team lead and her 15 RBIs tie Grupp and Tiffany Laughren for the top spot.

Emma Martindale, a Science Hill graduate, has three home runs for ETSU.

MEN’S TENNIS

It’s rivalry week for the men’s tennis team, which plays at Furman on Friday in a key conference match.

Both teams come in undefeated early in the conference season. ETSU is 7-5 overall, 2-0 in the conference. Furman is 12-4 and has won its only conference match. The Paladins are undefeated at home.

Bucs senior Robert Herrera is the reigning SoCon player of the month.

WOMEN’S TENNIS

Ioanna Markesini, a senior from Athens, Greece, picked up the 100th singles victory of her career in ETSU’s victory over UNC Greensboro on Sunday.

After losing their conference opener 4-3 to Chattanooga, the Bucs have won three consecutive SoCon matches, including a 7-0 victory over Western Carolina on Wednesday. They play a non-conference match at VCU on Saturday before returning home for their final four conference matches.

MEN’S GOLF

The men’s golf team has some time off before its next tournament, April 9-10 at the Wofford Invitational. The Bucs then play April 13-15 in the Mason Rudolph Invitational at Franklin, Tennessee, before returning to Pinehurst on April 22-24 to defend their championship in the SoCon tournament.

WOMEN’S GOLF

A few days in paradise is up next for the women’s golf team, which will be in Hawaii next week to compete in the Anuenue Spring Break Classic at Kapalua.

Hee Ying Loy, a junior from Malaysia, was chosen as the SoCon’s golfer of the week. She has finished in the top 10 in 16 of her last 20 tournaments, including five in a row.

TRACK & FIELD

South Carolina’s outdoor track will be a busy place Friday and Saturday when 40 teams and more than 1,500 athletes converge for on Columbia, South Carolina, for the Weeks Baskins Invitational. The ETSU men’s and women’s teams will send a strong contingent of athletes to the meet.

ETSU’s Kyra Atkins is the defending champion in the women’s 100-meter dash at the meet, while Ben Johnson finished fifth in the hammer throw, fifth in the javelin and sixth in the discus last year.

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