Paladins slip past Buccaneers, 4-3

By Marvin Birchfield
STAR CORRESPONDENT

   JOHNSON CITY -- The battle for a spot in the Southern Conference baseball tournament was on the line Saturday, as Furman made it one step closer by defeating ETSU in a 4-3 final at Howard Johnson field.
   "We had all kinds of opportunities early to put this game away, and we just didn't execute," said ETSU coach Tony Skole.
   This puts pressure on Sunday's game with the Bucs having a chance to be seeded as high as sixth with the win or the last seed with a loss.
   "It's frustrating for the coaches, because the things we practice and teach are basic, and now we have to go into tomorrow fighting for our lives," said Skole.
   Furman is faced with a must-win situation in order to extend its season, thus making its next meeting with the Bucs a crucial one.
   The Bucs started off grabbing an early lead of 2-0 after the second inning of play.
   A bunt from Scott Rose led to a throwing error to third base from Furman pitcher Corey Etheridge, which allowed Kirk Keithely to come in for the score.
   Another run followed when Ryan Hyder knocked a grounder to left-field to drive home Michael Giroud.
   The Paladins came back in the top of the fifth, when Clint Hill smashed a double to the left-field wall to bring home Jon Stallsmith.
   A second run scored after Nick Wajda ripped a hit up the middle, which brought in Hill.
   With the game tied at 2-2, the Bucs found a way to climb back on top in the bottom of the fifth.
   A single to center field from Brandon Cross drove in Matt Traylor to give the Bucs a one run advantage.
   The Bucs acquired three hits with two walks, but could only muster one score, leaving the ETSU coaching staff in disarray of missed opportunities.
   "We played about as poorly fundamentally as we could play from a mental stand point," Skole said. "Missed signs, routine plays, and breakdown on things we practice we didn't execute."
   Furman had a chance to make some noise in the sixth, when a hit from Ryan Presnell up the middle and a shot from Cole Hubka placed them on second and third base.
   The defense for the Bucs held by getting the third out off a ground-out from Hill.
   The Paladins answered the call in the eighth frame by obtaining their first lead of the contest.
   "I thought we really competed for nine innings and we had some opportunities that didn't quite go our way, but I think our bullpen did a really nice job," said Furman coach Ron Smith.
   A hit to left field from Hill brought home Danny Rueckel, who had gotten on base after an error was committed by the Bucs second-baseman.
   The go-ahead run scored off of a hit to right field from designated-hitter Drew Latora, which drove home Hill.
   "We got some big hits, and with our backs against the wall we responded real well, so I'm pleased," said Smith.
   The hit nearly pushed across a second run, but an excellent throw from Keithley to home plate resulted in a tag on Wajada.
   The Bucs had two runners on base in the bottom of the eighth, but were unable to bring either one of them in for a score.
   Pitcher Rob Purvis got the win for Furman, going to 1-2 on the year, while Tim Turner receivedhis sixth loss on the season for the Bucs.
   The Bucs drop to a record of 21-33 on the season 13-15 in conference play, as the Paladins improve to 22-32 on the year and 13-16 in the conference.
   "We have to win tomorrow -- that one is for all the marbles and it should be fun," said Smith.
   The two teams meet today at 1 p.m.
   Friday's Game
   ETSU 13
   Furman 4
   With Keithley driving in five runs and Traylor and Jason Brotherton each going 3-for-3, the Buccaneers had an easy time of things on Friday night.
   Tagging his second home run and first triple of the season, Keithley went 3-for-5 and scored a pair of runs.
   As for Traylor, he collected four RBIs, banged out his fourth homer of the year, tripled and scored three runs.
   Brotherton also crossed the plate three times. Bryan Crouse chipped in a 2-for-5 effort that included a pair of RBIs.
   ETSU starter Reid Casey picked up the win by scattering 10 hits and allowed three earned runs over seven innings of work. Casey had nine strikeouts against one walk while upping his record to 9-5.
   Jarrod Hyder finished out the game for the Bucs, pitching two scoreless innings.
   The key inning for the Bucs was the fourth. Leading 3-2 after Furman tallied a run in the top half of the innings, ETSU responded with four runs to build a 7-3 advantage.
   The Bucs added a run in the seventh before pushing in five runs in the eighth.
   Dominic Frankey launched his 11th homer of the season during a 3-for-5 showing for the Paladins, who also got a 3-for-5 performance from Hill.
   Presnell got himself a triple in three at-bats.