Mercer ousted the Bucs from the Southern Conference tournament Saturday with a 11-7 victory in a losers’ bracket game at Fluor Field.
The sixth-seeded Bucs, who had 14 hits, finished the season at 34-21. No. 4 Mercer improved to 32-27 and was set to play top-seeded Samford in an elimination game later Saturday night.
ETSU never led and Mercer used four home runs, including back-to-back shots in the top of the ninth inning, to keep the Bucs at bay. Collin Price blasted two home runs for the Bears, who finished with 14 hits.
“Once you get in a tournament setting, you’re relying on everybody and just trying to survive,” said second-year ETSU coach Joe Pennucci, who used five pitchers. “We did some good things offensively. We just couldn’t hold them down like we wanted to.”
The Bucs, who scored three times in the ninth inning Friday night to rally past Furman, tried to come back again as Mercer’s relievers couldn’t find the strike zone in the ninth. After three walks, a two-run single by Ethan Shelton gave ETSU some hope.
The Bucs had runners on second and third when Jackson Kelley, the Bears’ sixth pitcher of the day, completed his first save of the season.
“The resiliency of this group was impressive,” Pennucci said. “The atmosphere that’s changed here is significant. I think we’re only looking to get better and I think we will.”
ACE IN THE HOLE
ETSU’s No. 1 starter Micah Kaczor came on in relief to start the seventh inning. He had worked 6 2/3 innings in the Bucs’ first tournament game, a 4-2 win over UNC Greensboro on Thursday.
Kaczor replaced reliever Daulton Montagna, who went 3 1/3 innings and allowed two runs. Colby Stuart, the Bucs’ starter, had allowed five earned runs in 2 2/3 innings and fell to 3-4.
After shutting down Mercer for an inning, Kaczor gave up a walk before Trevor Austin got to him for a run-scoring triple into the right field corner. He left with runners on first and third.
When Bucs closer James Giambalvo allowed a run-scoring hit to RJ Yeager, the run was charged to Kaczor and it turned out to be a costly one. Kaczor had a chance to break the school record for single-season and career ERA. He wound up second in both. He finished this season at 2.13, which is second to the 2.04 posted by Jeff Brintle in 1981. He finished with a 3.42 career ERA, barely missing the mark of 3.40 held by Jeff Andrews, who pitched for ETSU from 1978-81.
Angelo DiSpigna and Alex Crotty also homered for the Bears. Price finished 3 for 5 while Crotty drove in three runs and scored four. Austin was 4 for 4 with three RBIs.
After Mercer jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the second inning against Stuart, the Bucs tied it up with two runs on four hits in the bottom of the inning. Ethan Shelton drove in the first with a groundout and Cade Gilbert got the second RBI on an infield single that was upheld after a video review by the umpires. The Bucs tied it with four hits in the bottom of the second before Mercer flexed its muscle.
Price blasted a solo home run over the replica Big Green Monster in left field and two batters later, Crotty added a two-run shot in the same direction. That left the Bears up 5-2. The closest the Bucs got the rest of the way was 5-4.
Shelton finished with four RBIs for the Bucs with two hits. Gilbert, David Beam, Jake Lyle, Colby Emmertz and Markell Graham each had two hits for ETSU.
ETSU catcher Jackson Greer smacked a towering solo home run in the seventh inning.
QUITE A PAIR OF CATCHES
Graham, ETSU’s right fielder, made two remarkable catches on back-to-back batters in the third inning.
First, he ranged 90 feet to his left and made a dust-filled diving catch on the warning track near the foul line to rob RJ Yeager of extra bases. He then made a running, twisting catch in straightaway right field before flopping on the warning track in a cloud of dust once again. That one stole a hit from Kel Johnson.
The Bears finally found a spot where Graham couldn’t rob them. Later that inning, Price and Crotty blasted their home runs deep over the Monster in left field.