FORT MYERS, Fla.—Mitchell Jordan tossed 6.2 strong innings and Stetson’s offense turned in a clutch performance as the Hatters stayed alive at the Atlantic Sun Conference Championship with a 5-2 win over East Tennessee State, Friday at Swanson Stadium.
The win sends Stetson (26-33) into a showdown with Kennesaw State, 10 a.m., Saturday. The Hatters will need to defeat the Owls twice in order to advance to Sunday’s championship round. ETSU (27-30), the defending tournament champion, saw its season come to an end.
Jordan (3-8) was outstanding on the mound for the Hatters, allowing just two runs and scattering eight hits. The freshman right-hander struck out a pair and didn’t walk a batter in his first start since April 23. The win was his first since March 30.
“It was an all-round good game,” said Stetson head coach Pete Dunn. “Mitch stepped up when we needed him the most. We were efficient with our hitting today. We got some RBIs down in the bottom of the order, and we played outstanding defense. Overall, it was a great game, and a gutty game. But we still got a long road to hoe.”
The Hatters’ offense was balanced and efficient, collecting 10 hits and leaving just four runners on base. Four different players drove in runs, and Stetson struck out just three times.
Stetson took an early 1-0 lead when Mike Fernland led off the game with a single, moved to third on a ground out and wild pitch, and eventually scored on a grounder by Patrick Mazeika. Stetson was denied an opportunity for more when ETSU right fielder Tyler Roach made a diving catch on Garrett Russini’s sinking liner with two on and two out.
The Buccaneers tied the game in the bottom of the first when Jeremy Taylor sneaked a home run just inside the right-field foul pole to start the inning.
Stetson used small ball to regain the lead in the top of the second. Kyle Zech led off with a single, stole second and moved to third on a sacrifice bunt by Kyle Pitts. Zech came around to score when K’Shawn Smith delivered a sacrifice fly to make it 2-1.
ETSU came back and tied the game in the third. Taylor did the damage again, leading off with a double and eventually scoring on a wild pitch.
The game stayed knotted at 2-2 as Jordan and ETSU reliever Logan Rice (3-2) turned the do-or-die game into an old fashioned pitcher’s duel in the middle innings. Rice, who took over for ETSU starter Clinton Freeman to start the fourth, retired the first nine batters he faced. At the same time, Jordan was cruising through the Bucs’ lineup, allowing just two hits between the fourth and sixth innings.
Stetson finally broke through against Rice in the top of the seventh. Russini opened the inning with a single and moved to second on a sac bunt by Zech. Russini moved to third on a single by Pitts, and scored the go-ahead run when ETSU right fielder Tyler Roach bobbled Pitts’ hit.
Suddenly on top by a run, the Hatters weren’t done scoring in the seventh. Pitts eventually moved to third and scored when Fernland rifled a two-out single up the middle, giving Stetson a 4-2 lead.
Jordan retired two of the first three batters he faced in the seventh, leaving with one on and two outs. Josh Thorn eventually set down the Bucs to preserve the lead.
Tyler Warmoth came out of the Stetson pen to start the eighth and allowed just a one-out single. Stetson added an insurance run in the top of the ninth on a sac fly by Pitts.
Warmoth gave up a lead off single in the ninth and then retired the next three hitters for his 10th save.
If the Hatters are to win the title, they’ll now need to potentially win four games in two days. But Dunn says the Hatters can’t think in those terms.
“If you look at the big picture and think ‘we have to win four games to win this thing’, you might think you have too big a hill to climb,” he said. “We have to focus on the immediate and not get ahead of ourselves.”
Taylor Cockrell led Stetson with three hits, while Fernland and Russini had two apiece.