ATLANTA — A debut on a big stage can often lead to an embarrassing stumble before a lot of people, and Mercer was on college baseball’s biggest stage for the first time and at a place where it didn’t know much success.
Tony Plagman made sure the Bears never got comfortable or confident.
The junior from Wesleyan made Brandon Love pay for a few mistakes with home runs and early momentum as Georgia Tech took care of Mercer 10-0 Friday night in the NCAA Atlanta Regional at Russ Chandler Stadium.
A crowd of 2,776 watched the Yellow Jackets improve to 46-13 and the Bears fall to 37-23 as a five-game winning streak came to an end.
Mercer faces Elon at 3 p.m today in an elimination game, while Georgia Tech and Alabama battle at 7 p.m. Alabama beat Elon 11-2 earlier Friday in a game delayed by rain and lightning.
Plagman didn’t discriminate, with solid shots regardless of the pitcher. He finished 5-for-5 with three RBI and two runs, getting a hit off of four of Mercer’s six pitchers.
“It was the Tony Plagman Show,” Mercer head coach Craig Gibson said. “Tech showed why they’re a national seed.”
Jay Dantzler and Jacob Esch each had two hits and a home run, and Thomas Nichols and Matt Skole had two-hit days as Tech belted out 16 hits.
The Bears’ arms had their moments, striking out eight with only two walks.
Plagman wasn’t anywhere on that list, and his homers opened up what was developing into a competitive game by changing Mercer’s pitching strategy.
Gibson’s decision to start sophomore left-hander Love against a lefty-heavy lineup was a pretty good one through three innings.
Except when Plagman came to bat and did what he does against pitchers of all sizes, deliveries and uniform colors.
He drove a 1-1 pitch way over the right-field wall with two outs in the first and manhandled a 2-0 offering for a two-run blast in almost the same spot in the third.
“I thought his home run in the first inning kind of relaxed everybody on our team,” Hall said. “Then he hit a two-run homer, and that gave us a little distance.”
Starter Mark Pope gave head coach Danny Hall more than he expected with a complete-game win.
“I never dreamed that he would be able to go nine innings,” Hall said. “I knew he was capable of throwing a shutout. He kept his pitch count down. A nine-inning complete game, 10 strikeouts, two walks, and very few hits against a very, very good hitting Mercer team. Outstanding performance.”
Love left after 3-1/3 innings with a runner on first, having given up four runs on seven hits. He struck out four and walked only one. But Plagman left marks.
“Plagman’s a great hitter; we’ve known that from the start,” Love said. “I went after him with off-speed … and he hammered everything I threw.”
David Teasley came in, and the plan was for the freshman Teasley, an off-speed right-hander with a low sidearm delivery and quality slider, to go for a period of time and set things up for perhaps a lefty.
Dantzler changed things with a towering two-run homer off of Teasley. It was still early and the Bears were making contact against Pope, albeit with a shot usually directly at a Tech defender. They had two on with one out in the fourth only for Thomas Carroll to stroke a perfect double-play grounder.
“(It) was, I thought, a real momentum shift,” Hall said of the double play. “Then we were able to keep adding some runs.”
Pope was effective early, but not dominant, with three hits and three strikeouts through four innings. Consecutive one-out walks in the fifth brought a visit from pitching coach Tom Kinkelaar, and Pope got a grounder and strikeout to end the threat.
Lefty David Randall took over for Mercer in the fifth, and Plagman managed only a sharp single off of him. Randall, however, got out of a two-on situation, but Mercer still could only hit hard balls right at the Yellow Jackets.
Billy Burns and Tyler McCarty sent shots, right to shortstop Derek Dietrich and second baseman Esch, in the sixth for another frustrating inning. Tech added two in the sixth on a hit batter, two singles and a fly ball.
Tech’s 8-0 lead was safe as Pope got stronger and Mercer’s bats still were unable to put the ball where a defender wasn’t.
The Bears were retired in order only in the second, third, seventh and ninth innings.
Perhaps the beginning of the game was an omen.
Burns led it off with a single to right and then was picked off.
“I didn’t want to sacrifice in the first,” Gibson said. “I wanted (Burns) to run. Pope has a great pickoff move. He made a great play. That changed things a little bit.”