JOHNSON CITY - Tickets to the Atlantic Sun Conference basketball tournament at Memorial Center may become hot commodities this week.
East Tennessee State sports information director Mike White said Tuesday that about 1,000 ticket books have already been sold for the three-day event, which tips off Thursday at 1 p.m.
"That's almost twice as many as last year, and we had 6,000 people show up for that first night," White said. "It certainly means we're headed toward capacity."
One difference this year is seating capacity in the dome has been reduced to about 6,800 because of state fire codes. Another is the state of the ETSU basketball team.
The Bucs are the top seed and playing well entering the postseason, having won 14 of their past 15 games. They will face Stetson in a Thursday night quarterfinal at 7.
"Last year we were coming off a middle-of-the-pack season and not playing really well leading up to the tournament," White said. "This year we're the regular-season champion and playing very well. You have to suspect more people are going to come out to watch this team."
Tournament books, for all four sessions, will continue to be available for $60 up until the day of the tournament. Single-session tickets will then be sold at $20 apiece. If and when they run out, there will be $10 tickets available for limited seating on the East side of the building.
"One thing fans need to remember: The book for the whole tournament is $60, and if they plan to watch just three sessions, that's also $60," White said. "By purchasing a ticket book, you get a reserved seat and a better seat."
White said tournament preparations are going well in the second year ETSU has hosted the tournament.
"Things are going much smoother this year," he said. "Once you do it, you kind of know the process and it makes it much easier.
BACK IN ACTION: Senior forward Brad Nuckles returned to practice Tuesday, a day after an MRI on his injured left shoulder was negative.
Nuckles, who hurt his shoulder during Saturday's victory over Mercer, had full range of motion but said certain movements hurt pretty badly. He's expected to be in the lineup when the Bucs open play in the A-Sun tournament.
"I'll play as much as I can regardless of how much it hurts," he said. "If I'm not effective, I won't be out there. The only thing I worry about is quick movements, rebounding, getting into a jump-ball situation. Certain movements give me a lot of pain."
CHANGEUP: The baseball team is taking a novel approach to winning early in the season: pitching and defense.
The Bucs are 6-3 despite starting a little sluggish at the plate. Their collective batting average so far is .277.
"The games we've won, we've really pitched it and played very good defense," said coach Tony Skole. "In years past, we've had to overcome our pitching and our defense hasn't always been great.
"We've gotten some timely hitting so far this season; we're going to be that type of offensive team. It's going to be when we hit, not how much we hit it, so we have to come through with men in scoring position."
Senior catcher Justin Aughey leads the offense with a .379 average, while junior first baseman Anthony Russell is at .378 and sophomore second baseman Ben Allen is at .371. No one else is batting higher than .333.
"Those three guys have carried us offensively," Skole said.
The Bucs play at Furman today, then head to Rock Hill, S.C., to compete in a tournament at Winthrop this weekend.
"We've got a tough weekend series, starting with Kent State on Friday. They just took two of three from Florida," Skole said. "Temple is always tough, and Winthrop is a top-30 program.
"We'll have a better idea of where we stand on our way back Sunday."
MISSING HITS: The softball team is also searching for a few more hits.
The Bucs are 3-7 going into the Buzz Classic, hosted by Georgia Tech, in Woodstock, Ga., this weekend. They carry a .193 team batting average, with only one player, Mary Catherine Vercoe (.276), hitting above .230.
"Our goal is not really batting average, but on-base percentage," said coach Andrea Mangrum. "Right now we're not getting on base, whether it's a walk or a hit, and we're not scoring many runs. It's hard to win when you don't score."
The Bucs have games against Morehead State, Georgia State, Florida A&M and Wisconsin in pool play this weekend. The top three teams from each pool advance.
DEADLOCKED: The women's basketball team finds itself in a tie for second place with two games left in the regular season.
The Lady Bucs are 12-4 in the A-Sun and deadlocked with Jacksonville. The last two games are against Stetson and Mercer, the bottom teams in the standings.
Jacksonville, meanwhile, has to tangle with regular-season champion Belmont on Thursday.
The Lady Bucs will play Stetson on Friday at 1 p.m., prior to the semifinals of the A-Sun men's tournament at Memorial Center. The Mercer game is Sunday.
The A-Sun women's tournament runs from March 8-10 in Dothan, Ala.