It took some time on Saturday afternoon, but the Stetson Hatters finally punched through against East Tennessee State, scoring four times in the eighth inning to take a 7-3 victory at Melching Field.
The win for Stetson (18-22, 7-7) evened the Hatters’ record in Atlantic Sun Conference play and gives them a chance to win their third consecutive league series. ETSU (22-14, 11-6) saw its seven-game league win streak come to an end.
“That is exactly what we were looking for coming into today,” Stetson coach Pete Dunn said. “All we wanted was to give ourselves a chance to win the series, and now we have that chance. We needed this one to get back on track.”
The Hatters got another strong performance on the mound from junior starter Austin Perez, who scattered five hits and allowed just two earned runs over 6.1 innings of work, but it was the bullpen that slammed the door on the Bucs.
“That is two extremely well pitched games in a row,” Dunn said. “Even in the loss last night. We’ve only given up six runs in two games to a team that is sitting right there in first or second place. You can’t ask much better than that.”
Perez got into trouble in the seventh when he walked Tyler Roach to open the inning. A sacrifice bunt moved him into scoring position and a single through the right side by Alex Reynolds gave ETSU a chance for a big inning.
The Hatters turned to senior reliever Joe Dye to get out of the jam. Things didn’t go quite as planned, however, when Derek Niesman dropped a perfect bunt down the first base line on a squeeze play. With the middle of the infield at double-play depth, second baseman Carlos Garmendia was unable to cover first, resulting in a hit.
“Carlos hasn’t played a lot at second base and got caught a little by surprise,” Dunn said. “We were looking to turn the double play, which left him a out of position to cover on a bunt like that.”
With the tying run in and still two runners on base, Dye got ETSU catcher Mason Hershey to hit into an inning-ending double play to end the Bucs’ scoring threat.
The game was still tied in the eighth when ETSU turned to junior right-hander Will Chesney (2-2) out of the pen. The Hatters pounced on him to win the game.
James Rasmussen got things started with a one-out single, which Tyler Bocock followed with a perfect bunt down the third base line to put two runners on base. After Robert Bruce was hit by a pitch to load the bases, freshman Kevin Fagan laced a single up the middle to drive in two runs.
Patrick Mazeika followed after the second out with a two-run double down the leftfield line for a little insurance.
It was insurance the Hatters would not need.
“The difference for us today was that we had much better at bats today,” Dunn said. “We had a much better approach at the plate with men in scoring position. We still left nine on base, and that is too many, but we squared some balls up today with men in scoring position and we didn’t do that last night.”
After falling behind 2-0 early in the game, the Hatters rallied with a run in the fourth and two in the fifth to take their first lead of the series. Garmendia singled home Mazeika for the first run. In the fifth it was Garrett Russini who delivered a two-out single to drive in Darby McCormick. Mazeika then scored from third on a wild pitch to give Stetson the lead.
ETSU scored single runs in the second and third innings off Perez. Roach opened the second with a double and scored on a single to right-center by Reynolds. Jeremy Taylor opened the third with a bunt single, stole second and moved up to third on a bad throw and then scored on a ground out.
Fagan, Mazeika and Russini had two hits each to lead the Hatters. Reynolds had two hits to pace the Bucs.
“Those freshmen – Fagan, Mazeika and Lutz – are all playing pretty good right now,” Dunn said. “Lutz has done a nice job at third even though that is not his primary position. Garmendia has done a nice job defensively at second.”
The series will be decided on Sunday when a pair of freshman left-handers square off. Stetson will send Adam Schaly (0-2, 5.05) to the mound for just his second start in league play. He will face Josh Jacques (1-2, 5.11) for ETSU, who will also be making his second start in A-Sun play.
The game is scheduled for a 1 p.m. start at Melching Field.