Baseball: Tribe takes match, series with last-minute game-winner against ETSU

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Nick Butts. COURTESY IMAGE / TRIBE ATHLETICS

In between autographing baseballs of excited kids after William and Mary’s win Sunday, head coach Brian Murphy had nothing but positive things to say about his team.

“We beat a pretty good team here this weekend,” he said. “Those guys were playing well when they came in here, and we did a great job finishing against that lineup. We can build on that.”

Murphy had plenty of reasons to be upbeat after the Tribe (8-13) found a late run in the bottom of the ninth to put down Eastern Tennessee State (10-6), winning the game 3-2 and claiming the weekend series 2-1. After an extra-inning loss Saturday, where the Tribe gave up a run late to allow the Buccaneers to push the game into extra time and then lost in the 10th inning, junior catcher Hunter Smith and junior infielder Nick Butts redeemed the Tribe Sunday with clutch hits.

The College opened scoring on Sunday in the bottom of the second as a single from junior outfielder Owen Socher sent sophomore infielder Patrick Ryan home, putting the Tribe ahead 1-0. The Buccaneers had an immediate answer in the next inning, however, getting a runner to third base in the top of the third. The next batter up managed to crack a single just over the outstretched glove of Ryan at third base to tie the game at 1-1.

The top of the fourth was a quick set of three flyouts, and the Tribe gathered some momentum in the bottom of the inning as an Eastern Tennessee infielder fumbled a grounder from Matt McDermott, very nearly allowing the College to get two runners on base. The infielder managed to get the ball to first base in time, however, making the play to end the inning.

The College got another look in the bottom of the sixth as senior outfielder Luca Farina’s walk loaded the bases with McDermott stepping up to the plate. He again couldn’t get the ball past the Eastern Tennessee State infielders and grounded out with the game still tied at 1-1.

Freshman pitcher Jacob Haney threw a season-high seven innings Sunday, closing out his time on the mound in the bottom of the seventh with a strikeout, a flyout and a groundout. He would end the day having allowed five hits but only one run.

“Haney did a really good job giving us seven innings.” —COACH BRIAN MURPHY

“Jake Haney did a really good job giving us seven innings on a day where he wasn’t his sharpest,” said Murphy. “He kind of fought it the whole way through, and against a good lineup.”

Like in the heartbreaker Saturday, the Tribe allowed a late run by Eastern Tennessee State. The Buccaneers cracked a drive deep into the outfield in the top of the eighth, and the crowd at Plumeri Park breathed a collective sigh of relief as a College outfielder made a diving play to catch it. But the umpire ruled that the ball had hit the ground before the catch, and in the confusion, Eastern Tennessee State got a run in to lead the game 2-1.

The bottom of the eighth saw the first two Tribe batters strike out in quick succession. It looked as if, much like the day before, the College was going to be unable to find an answer for a late backbreaking hit from the opposition. But Smith wasn’t about to let history repeat itself. He stepped up to the plate and cracked a home run past the scoreboard to tie the game at 2-2.

After Smith’s homer, the College managed to find even more momentum and got two runners on base. But the Buccaneers gathered themselves and managed to close out the inning without allowing the Tribe another run.

In the top of the ninth, the Buccaneers got a runner to second as sophomore relief pitcher Jamie Sara walked a batter and then saw him to second on a sacrifice bunt. But Sara wouldn’t allow anything more than that, striking out the final batter and keeping the score at 2-2.

“We pitched really well today,” said Murphy. “That keeps you in every game.”

It was time for the bottom of the ninth, where the Tribe would have one final chance to close out the game before extras.

“We had a little bit more energy [than yesterday],” said Butts. “Close game like this, you have to stay energetic and just know you’re gonna pull through at some point in the game.”

And pull through the College did, getting on base as a catcher’s interference call sent Socher to first. Junior infielder Zach Pearson then put down a sacrifice bunt to get Socher to second. With a single out on the board and Socher waiting on second, Butts stepped up to bat and cracked a hit to the outfield, sending Socher sprinting towards home.

“I knew there was a guy on second so they were gonna try to pitch backwards, throw off-speed first and then maybe come after me after that,” said Butts. “I just got a fastball over the middle of the plate, hit it up the middle.”

The Buccaneers tossed the ball back in a desperate throw across the field. It sailed just over the tip of the Eastern Tennessee catcher’s glove as Socher threw himself across home plate. As the Buccaneer lowered his glove in defeat, the Tribe came pouring onto the field to bury Butts in a victorious pile, celebrating a 3-2 walk-off win and its second weekend series victory of the season.

“It’s all about getting better as the season goes on, so as long as we’re getting better, then it’s all good.” —NICK BUTTS

Thanks to clutch hits from Butts and Smith and shutdown pitching from closer Sara, the College will improve to 8-13 on the season. After winning only one of their first eight matches, they’ve now won five of their last ten.

“It’s all about getting better as the season goes on, so as long as we’re getting better, then it’s all good,” said Butts.

The Tribe will travel to the nation’s capital for its next matchup as it faces off against George Washington Tuesday for a midweek game in Washington, D.C.