Mercer got off to a good start and maintained it to beat Furman 6-1 Thursday in the Southern Conference baseball tournament in Greenville, South Carolina.
The Bears improved to 37-21 while the Paladins fell to 28-29.
Top-seeded Mercer got a complete-game gem from freshman Kevin Coulter and a two-run home run from conference Player of the Year Kyle Lewis.
"It's hard to say enough about Kevin Coulter's complete game,” Mercer head coach Craig Gibson said. “His maturity level is above a freshman right now and first and foremost, his mound presence is incredible. He's a strike thrower, he pitches to contact and defensively we helped him out with a couple double plays Thursday."
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The Bears earned an off day and a date with either No. 2 seed Western Carolina or No. 6 seed Samford on Saturday at noon. The Paladins will face No. 3 seed UNCG in an elimination contest at 7 p.m. Friday.
Coulter (8-3) turned in one of the best games of his young career, scattering seven hits and allowing just one run. He struck out one and walked one to keep pace with ETSU’s Jamin McCann for second in the conference with eight wins. The complete game was Mercer’s first of the season.
After Danny Edgeworth’s one-out single, Lewis hit an opposite-field homer off the top of the wall down the line in right in the bottom of the first to give Coulter all the run support he needed.
The Bears added another run on Trey Truitt’s RBI double in the fourth and made it a 4-0 game on Ryan Hagan’s RBI sacrifice bunt in the fifth.
Furman broke up Coulter’s shutout in the top of the sixth inning, as Sims Griffith singled with one out and went to third on Jake Crawford’s tailing double down the right-field line before coming home on a Sky Overton groundout.
Mercer put the game out of reach in the eighth, scoring two more runs without the benefit of a hit.
Two walks and a hit batter loaded the bases with one out before Hagan scored on a wild pitch. Another hit batter reloaded the bases, and after Furman reliever Ryan Griffith got a strikeout for the second out of the inning, Lewis drew a bases-loaded walk to make it a 6-1 contest.
The Bears left the bases loaded, as Nolan Mullen came out of the bullpen to get a strikeout for the final out.
Lewis’ second walk of the day was his 63rd of the season, tying him for third in a single season in conference history with The Citadel’s Dan McDonnell (1992).
Lewis’ home run was his 19th of the season, tying him for the league lead and putting him two-thirds of the way to winning the SoCon’s first Triple Crown since 1975. The junior outfielder currently leads the conference with a .408 average and is second in RBI with 69, just three back of Samford’s Heath Quinn.
Edgeworth had two hits for the Bears, while Lewis reached base three times, had three RBIs and scored twice.
Matthew Quarles, the first of five Furman pitchers on the day, suffered the loss to fall to 7-7 on the year.
Earlier Thursday, East Tennessee State eliminated The Citadel 4-2 and UNC Greensboro ended Wofford's season with a 9-6 win. Western Carolina and Samford played in Thursday's late game.