Samford looked the part of Southern Conference regular-season baseball champion against East Tennessee State on Saturday.
The Bulldogs romped to a 9-1 win over the Bucs at Thomas Stadium to win the weekend series. Samford ended the regular season 39-17 overall and 19-5 in the conference, 4 1/2 games ahead of Wofford.
ETSU, which opened the season by winning 20 of its first 25 games, finished the regular season 32-19 and 11-12 in league play.
When opportunity knocked for the Bucs, they didn’t answer Saturday, leaving bases loaded in the first and sixth innings. All total, the Bucs left 12 runners stranded.
“We didn’t get the clutch hit. Teams have that happen, but unfortunately that happened to us today,” ETSU coach Joe Pennucci said. “We got ourselves in some good situations. In the second inning, we had bases loaded and nobody out and just got one run out of it. You can’t do that against good teams.”
Combined with Samford scoring six runs in the sixth and seventhh innings, the game quickly was out of reach.
The Bucs honored three senior pitchers — Micah Kaczor, James Giambalvo and Daniel Sweeney — before the game. Giambalvo came in to throw the fifth inning and Sweeney, a former Science Hill High School standout, was the Bucs’ closer for the final inning.
He gave up one hit, but no runs, recording the final out on a 1-3 ground out where he flipped the ball to first baseman Noah Hill.
It was an appropriate ending, closing a chapter of Sweeney playing baseball in his hometown.
“I don’t like to lose if this was my last game here,” Sweeney said. “But, it’s been a fun season. The guys I’ve played with are my best friends for life. These are the guys who are going to be in my wedding, and guys who I will do things with throughout my life. That’s been the most special part of this.”
SAMFORD OF SWING
The Bulldogs ended with 13 hits with three hits for Taylor Garris and Preston Moore. Sonny DiChiara and Jordan Fucci each hit home runs.
ETSU had eight hits with Sean Kearney, Jake Lyle and Markell Graham all going 2-for-4. Cullen Smith had a sacrifice fly in the second inning for the Bucs’ only run.
Hamp Skinner (1-2) gave up just one hit and no walks in three innings to get the win for Samford. ETSU starter Colby Stuart (3-3) suffered the loss giving up three runs over four innings.
The Bucs will face UNC Greensboro (33-17) in the first round of the Southern Conference tournament on Wednesday at Fluor Field in Greenville, South Carolina. ETSU’s coach is optimistic going into the postseason.
“I think this team has played well,” Pennucci said. “If you told me last year this is what we would get out of the new group, I would take it. From the most part, top to bottom, we’ve done a good job of competing and our starting pitching has been good. We just have to execute and make plays. Today, we didn’t do that. It’s simple baseball. If you catch it and create an out, you’re typically in good positions.”