The #7 ETSU Bucs rallied for three runs in the bottom of the ninth inning to stun the #9 VMI Keydets, 12-11, in an elimination game of the 2017 SoCon Baseball Championship Presented by Holston Gases, Friday night in Greenville, S.C.
VMI took an 11-9 lead into the ninth with swingman Matt Eagle on the mound, but Jammer Strickland reached on a two-base error by third baseman Josh Hollifield to start the inning. Eagle retired Ethan Rice on a fly ball, but Hunter Parker doubled home Strickland and Chris Cook tied the game with a double of his own.
Ryan Bennett, who had pitched four innings over the past two games combined (70 pitches), emerged from the bullpen, but Aaron Maher laced Bennett’s second pitch into right field for his fourth hit of the game. Cook scored ahead of Tyler Tharp’s throw as ETSU posted its second walk-off win of the tournament.
Both teams pitched the game primarily out of the bullpen, as neither starter completed the fourth inning. Eagle (4-5) took the loss, as he was charged with three runs – two earned – in 2 2/3 innings. Dillon Cate pitched a scoreless ninth and moved to 1-1 on the year for ETSU.
ETSU took an early 2-0 lead against Kyle Staats, but the Keydets fired back in a big way in the third. Back to back singles started the inning, and two outs later, Tharp was intentionally walked to load the bases for Peyton Maddox. Maddox delivered a two-run single to tie the game, and Collin Fleischer followed with a mammoth homer off the condos beyond left field, staking the Keydets to a 5-2 lead. Fleischer’s homer, his 17th of the year, gave him sole possession of second-most in a season in school history.
The Keydets added a run in the fourth, but the Bucs then scored seven unanswered runs in the middle innings, including back to back homers in the fifth by Christian Bailey and Blake Rowlett. Hagen Owenby hit a two-run homer in the sixth, and just like that, it was 9-6 ETSU.
The slugfest continued in the seventh, when Tharp led off with a walk, Maddox singled and Fleischer walked. Logan Gentry relieved for ETSU and struck out Jake Huggins, but Matt Dunlevy tripled home all three runners to tie the game. Hollifield then plated the go-ahead run on a groundout, and it was 10-9 Keydets.
Fleischer then drove in VMI’s 11th run with a double in the eighth, but the Keydets left two runners aboard in each of their last two at-bats and ETSU was able to prevail.
The loss ended the collegiate career of Tharp, who entered VMI’s single-season top-10 in numerous categories in his final year as a Keydet. Tharp finishes 2017 ranked first in total bases (143), tied for third in homers (16), fifth in hits (77), 10th in slugging percentage (.647) and tied for ninth in school history in at-bats (221). Tharp was the only senior in VMI’s starting lineup Friday evening.