After opening the season with four consecutive losses, members of the East Tennessee State softball team insisted they were close to turning the corner.
The corner might not be completely turned just yet, but the Bucs are certainly leaning in the right direction.
They’ve scratched and clawed their way back to .500 at 6-6, and the way they have done it has been dramatic. Walk-off home runs and five-run rallies have become commonplace for this group.
“This team continues to amaze me with its never-say-die attitude,” ETSU coach Brad Irwin said. “In their minds, they truly believe they are never out of a ballgame. It’s truly amazing. Words can’t describe how proud I am.”
The latest comeback was perhaps the most impressive. ETSU trailed Sienna 4-0 entering the final inning on Sunday. Considering the Bucs had already won the first two games of the series, they would have been forgiven for packing it in and counting it as a successful weekend.
Instead, they rallied for five runs to complete a 5-4 victory and a sweep. The tying and winning runs came in on Casey Horner’s clutch two-out single to center field. Whitley Hensley got the rally started with a leadoff home run.
Horner finished the series 7 for10 with six RBIs.
It was ETSU’s third rousing comeback of the young season. They scored five runs in the bottom of the eighth inning — after giving up four in the top — to beat James Madison, and Jackie Baird beat the College of Charleston with a two-run homer.
The Bucs went 11-38 last season.
ETSU’s next action will this weekend’s Holiday Inn Buccaneer Challenge on Saturday and Sunday at Betty Basler Field. The Bucs will play a series of games with Bowling Green and Morehead State. A doubleheader with Liberty, originally scheduled for Thursday, has been moved to Tuesday because of coming bad weather.
The women’s basketball team finally earned a spot in the Atlantic Sun Conference tournament, but the Lady Bucs will be limping into the postseason.
Destiny Mitchell, once the go-to player for ETSU, has been hampered by a knee injury. As she has played through the pain, her game hasn’t been the same.
Mitchell’s scoring average of 11.2 points per game still leads the team, but it’s the lowest of her career. She hasn’t scored in double figures in the past seven games.
The junior forward also suffered a serious knee injury toward the end of her freshman year and missed this season’s game at LSU with a concussion.
ETSU (8-16 overall, 6-11 A-Sun) is coming off a 65-60 victory at North Florida. Elizabethton’s Cara Bowling had her best game,with 21 points. She made two big 3-pointers down the stretch.
Depending on the outcome of ETSU’s regular-season finale, a home game Saturday against USC-Upstate, the Lady Bucs can be seeded anywhere from fourth to seventh in next week’s A-Sun tournament.
The team’s lone senior, Tosha Austin, will be honored at Saturday’s game. The post player is a regular starter, but still spends most of her time on the bench, averaging under 11 minutes of playing time a night.
Hunter Harris might be ETSU’s ace in the hole when the men’s basketball tournament begins.
The junior-college transfer has been coming on as of late, scoring in double figure in four of the Bucs’ last six games.
In the last outing, a 61-58 victory at Jacksonville, Harris scored 22 points. He was active in the paint and efficient with his shooting, making 7 of10. He also made the key defensive play, a block of a 3-pointer in the closing seconds.
That’s the kind of production ETSU needs from Harris, who has seemingly disappeared at times on the court, if it is to do any damage at the tournament.
“For us to win, he’s a really important part of the formula,” ETSU coach Murry Bartow said. “He’s really our best true inside. Who can we get the ball inside to get a basket? He’s really that guy for us. When he’s not on his game, it limits our productivity.”
The Bucs (10-20, 8-9 A-Sun) finish the regular season Friday night with a home game against USC-Upstate (14-16, 8-9). ETSU’s only senior, Jarvis Jones, will be honored. He’s the team’s leading scorer, averaging 16.4 points per game, good for fourth in the conference.
The game will be televised by CSS.
Yaser Zaatini’s men’s tennis team is 2-3 early in the season, and two of the losses were close ones to big-time opponents Georgia and Nebraska.
The Bucs gave eighth-ranked Georgia a run before falling 5-2. Senior Jesus Bandres beat the 21st-ranked singles player in the country, Nathan Pasha. Sophomore Ricardo Pabon had ETSU’s other win, at No. 6 singles.
ETSU also fell 4-3 to Nebraska.
“Overall, I think we showed up, but it’s a matter of putting all the pieces together,” Zaatini said. “I tell the guys that if they fight hard, they’ll give themselves chances to win, and we had those chances.
“I think we’re playing well. I know our team is solid, but it’s just a matter of being able to finish a match and really believing that we can beat these teams. We had our chances with Nebraska and we had our chances with Georgia, but we can’t squander those.”
The A-Sun season begins Saturday for the Bucs, when they travel to Spartanburg, S.C., to face USC-Upstate. It’s a rematch of last year’s conference tournament semifinals, won 4-0 by ETSU.
The women’s tennis team is guaranteed to have a long-term winning streak.
After beating Appalachian State for its second win in a row, ETSU doesn’t play again until March 10 with a match at UNC-Wilmington.