Johnson City, Tenn. – Sam Lower's two-run home run in the bottom of the fifth spelled the difference as ETSU claimed a 3-2 victory over USC Upstate in A-Sun softball action Wednesday afternoon at Betty Basler Field.
Upstate fell to 37-9 overall and 17-6 in the A-Sun with the loss. The Spartans return home for a key A-Sun series against Mercer Saturday and Sunday in what will determine whether or not the Spartans win the regular season A-Sun Championship. Upstate has been in first place since the beginning of conference play and owns a 1 ½ game lead on North Florida. The games against Mercer are the final regular season contests for the Spartans this year and Sunday's game will be Senior Day at Cyrill Stadium. ETSU improved to 13-32 overall and picked up its first A-Sun win of the year, improving to 1-22 in league play.
Two weeks removed from sweeping the first two games of the split A-Sun series with ETSU by scores of 11-0 and 12-0 at Cyrill Stadium, Upstate couldn't come up with the key hits needed against ETSU starter Katie Wolff.
After Upstate put two runners on base with one out but not able to score a run, ETSU struck first in the bottom of the first inning. The Buccaneers led off the inning with back-to-back singles before Upstate starter Jamie Ujvari (Niceville, Fla.) got a fly out and a ground out. However, ETSU plated a run when Tara Hartnett reached on an error and Nicole Fox scored on the play to give the Buccaneers a 1-0 lead on the unearned run.
Upstate, though, battled right back and tied the game in the second inning, also benefitting from an error. Cheyenne Griffin (Moore, S.C.) led off the inning with a single and pinch runner Lindsey Greeson (Stanley, N.C.) advanced to second on Kendall Settlemyre's (Hickory, N.C.) walk to give the Spartans two on with no outs.
After Lindsay Kelly (Jacksonville, Fla.) reached on a fielder's choice to put runners on first and third with one out, Greeson scored when the ETSU shortstop made an error on the play, tying the game at 1-1.
After a three-up, three-down inning in the third and both teams getting a single with nothing more happening in the fourth, the game moved to the latter stages tied at 1-1. Ujvari and Wolff kept the teams off balance at the plate, combining to allow just six hits through four innings of play.
In the fifth, Upstate produced a run the way head coach Chris Hawkins likes, using speed and small ball. Pinch hitter Jessica Ujvari (Niceville, Fla.) walked to lead off the inning and Mellena Helms (Concord, N.C.) re-entered to run. Helms advanced to second on Meredith Barnes' (Salem, Ore.) sacrifice bunt. An out later, Shellie Robinson (DeLand, Fla.) singled down the third baseline to score Helms and give the Spartans a 2-1 lead.
ETSU battled right back and with a runner on first, Lower hit a two-run homer on a 3-2 count to give the Buccaneers a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the fifth. Neither team could produce anything in the final two innings as ETSU prevailed with the win.
Ujvari took the loss for Upstate after allowing three runs, one unearned, on six hits with four strikeouts. She fell to 17-3 on the year. Wolff (6-18) earned the win for ETSU after allowing two runs, one unearned, on four hits.
Griffin was solid at the plate for Upstate, finishing the game 2-for-3. However, the Spartans stranded six runners on base in the game. Lower was 2-for-3 with the game-winning homer to lead ETSU at the plate.