Rhea, a junior, torched his home course with a 9-under-par 63 to lead ETSU to a second-round 19-under 269 and two-day total of 550. The Bucs jumped from sixth place after Friday’s opening round into first place.
The Bucs’ Archie Davies shot a second-round 65 and is tied for fourth overall at 137 while teammate Shiso Go had a 68 (138) to find himself tied for eighth.
ETSU leads Tennessee (552) by two shots and Louisville (554) by four.
The day was that much more remarkable for the Bucs because they had to play with just four players. Sam Espinosa had to withdraw prior to Saturday’s round with a back injury that left ETSU with no margin of error.
“What the guys did today was awesome,” said ETSU coach Jake Amos. “You never really know what will happen with only four guys out there, but today they had a really good attitude and embraced the situation.
“I just wanted them to play aggressively. Once they got it rolling, they just kept their foot down. They had faith and trust in each other. I think they see the opportunity that’s in front of them.”
Rhea, who previously had a personal best of 65 on the Blackthorn layout, started his day with what he considered a pedestrian front nine. Making the turn at 1-under 35, Rhea birded the par-5 10th and par-4 11th holes.
After a par on the 12th, Rhea went birdie, eagle, birdie, birdie over his next four holes and then finished in style with another birdie on 18th. That gave him a sizzling 8-under 28 on the back nine.
“I just couldn’t get anything going on the front nine,” said Rhea. “But on the back side, the putts started dropping. Once I got a couple to go in, the hole began to look like a bucket.”
Obviously, Rhea was right at home at Blackthorn.
“My mindset has been better about playing here this season,” Rhea said. “And I was just feeding off my family and friends screaming for me to make birdies.”
Rhea has a two-day total of 67-63—130 and a six-shot advantage over Jackson Suber from Ole Miss and Benjamin Shipp of North Carolina State.
Sunday’s final round begins at 8:30 a.m. with the leaders teeing off at 10:36 on the first hole.
Saturday’s Second Round
Ole Miss 285-273—558
Virginia Tech 288-275—563
NC State 480-284—564
Coastal Carolina 282-282—564
East Carolina 285-286—571
Penn State 287-290—577
Jack Rhea, ETSU 67-63—130
Jackson Suber, Ole Miss 71-65—136
Benjamin Shipp, NC State 65-71—136
Archie Davies, ETSU 72-65—137
Spencer Cross, UT 68-69—137
Hunter Wolcott, UT 67-70—137
John Murphy, Louisville 66-71—137
Ian Peng, VCU 71-67—138
Shiso Go, ETSU 70-68—138
Zack Taylor, CC 69-69—138
Mark Lawrence, VT 69-69—138
Keegan DeLange, Louisville 69-69—138
Keller Harper, Furman 67-71—138
A Segundo Oliva Pinto, UNCW 66-72—138
Other ETSU scores
x-playing as an individual
Trevor Hulbert 72-73—145
x-Austin Carter 72-78—150
Sam Espinosa 76-WD