ATLANTA — Mercer waited decades to reach the NCAA tournament.
Then the Bears went nine innings on Friday in that NCAA debut waiting for the offense to get going, and the result was an unfamiliar result: a shutout.
Familiarity returned to the Mercer offense in a big way only 18 hours later.
The top part of Mercer’s order batted .593 for the game as the Bears rolled past Elon 13-7 Saturday in an elimination game of the NCAA Atlanta Regional at Russ Chandler Stadium.
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“(Saturday) was our day,” Mercer head coach Craig Gibson said. “The breaks went our way, and the bounces went our way for us.”
Mercer (38-23) advanced into today’s 3 p.m. elimination game. Elon ended its season at 38-24, and with only its second 0-2 trip in five regional appearances.
“Just hate the way we played the last two days,” Elon head coach Mike Kennedy said. “Leaves a bad taste in my mouth.”
Elon lost 11-2 on Friday to Alabama and left the regional being outscored 26-9.
On Friday, Mercer’s five hits came from only the top three spots in the lineup: Billy Burns, Tyler McCarty and Jacob Tanis, with Burns and Tanis getting two each. The lack of offense led to a 10-0 loss to Georgia Tech, the first time Mercer had been shut out since April 25 of last year, 9-0 to North Florida.
But the Bears made solid contact when they weren’t striking out, which helped to avoid a crisis of confidence.
“I didn’t think there was that much to talk about,” junior right fielder Thomas Carroll said. “I thought we squared up the ball well (Friday) night and did it again (Saturday). It didn’t fall (Friday) night. The same hits that didn’t fall fell (Saturday) for us.”
The bottom third of the lineup continued to struggle, but the top six more than made up for it, going a whopping 16-for-27 with 12 RBI.
McCarty, a senior from Spalding, went 4-for-5 with three runs and two RBI while Carroll and Michael Langley each had three hits. Burns, Tanis, Evan Boyd and Joe Winker had two hits each, and Winker and Carroll had four RBI apiece.
The Bears got rolling immediately with three in the first on four singles, an error and grounder, Winker bringing in two with a single to right.
“We were able to get out in front and get away from ‘em a little bit, tack a few runs on ‘em,” Gibson said. “I thought Matt McCall got off to a good start, pitched five great innings.”
Elon’s Alex Swim belted a homer in the top of the second, but Mercer got three back in the third on three singles and a two-run double from Winker.
“It was definitely a feeling of relief to finally get those runs across in the first inning,” Carroll said. “People relaxed and started swinging the bats.”
Burns opened the fourth with a triple to right and scored on McCarty’s single. Tanis reached on an error and Carroll delivered a monster homer to right.
“I was pretty relaxed,” Carroll said. “I hadn’t had one in awhile.”
McCall cruised through four innings, allowing only three hits and a run. But he opened the fifth with a walk and hit batter, which activated the bullpen. His day was over after a strikeout and walk.
“I felt I was sharp at the beginning, kind of fading off toward the end,” McCall said. “My fastball started running a little bit, that’s about it.”
David Teasley, rocked by a two-run homer in his second batter Friday night, came on and the same thing happened: Swim yanked a 3-1 pitch over the wall in right for a grand slam to pull the Phoenix within 10-5.
Mercer’s Evan Boyd broke his slump with a single to open the fifth, and he scored on McCarty’s double to left-center. Tanis followed with a run-scoring single for a 12-5 lead.
Teasley (6-1) rebounded, then gave way to lefty David Randall for the seventh.
Elon managed two ninth-inning runs off of Scott Patterson, and Jacob Matthews finished it in two pitches.
“(It was) the ability to score first and sort of take the pressure off a little bit, and Matt settled in and pitched for us,” Gibson said. “It was as good (Saturday) as it was tough (Friday) night.”