ATLANTA — The pitching was superb, against one of the top programs in the nation and on the road.
Would the hitting come around, or would that performance be wasted?
Evan Boyd made sure that his pitchers’ hearts wouldn’t be broken.
Boyd’s two-run double in the top of the eighth put Mercer on top and Russell Moses finished off a quality relief performance as Mercer surprised No. 6 Georgia Tech 4-2 on Tuesday night at Russ Chandler Stadium.
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“It’s pretty exciting,” starting pitcher Justice French said with a grin after breaking the Bears’ 17-game losing streak to the Yellow Jackets. “I ain’t afraid to say it. It’s pretty exciting.”
French, for more than three innings, and Moses the rest of the way kept the nation’s No. 6 offense from bunching much of anything together at the plate. French went into the fourth, and Moses was masterful in finishing the game to improve to 2-1.
“It was a good one, that’s for sure,” Moses said after the Bears ended the Yellow Jackets’ 16-game winning streak. “We got our minds right, got prepared to come here and play a good game.”
For the first time in the series since 1999, there was suspense. And for the first time since 1998, Mercer won. It was Georgia Tech’s lowest run total against Mercer since the Bears took a 4-2 win back in 1992.
“I thought our team was as good as theirs (Tuesday),” Mercer head coach Craig Gibson said. “Frenchy was great; he’s been good all year for us. Moses was good up here in regional play (last season), and he comes in (Tuesday) and was outstanding.”
Mercer (18-9) remains on the road at Campbell this weekend while Georgia Tech (21-5) returns to ACC action on the road this weekend at Duke.
The Bears and Yellow Jackets tangle again April 19 in Macon.
Mercer’s offense took some time to find a groove against starter Matt Grimes and then a few relievers, but the Bears finally tied it in the seventh.
Then they got their sixth straight leadoff batter on — five on walks — to start the eighth when Jacob Tanis walked, and then Thomas Carroll reached on a bunt single. They moved up on a chop groundout by Austin Barrett, and Evan Boyd brought them around with a towering double off the wall in right.
“Our pitchers came out and gave us a chance to win,” Boyd said. “They’ve been doing that a lot. They battled their butts off. It was time for us hitters to step up. We gotta get the two-out hits to win, and we got one.”
Georgia Tech reliever Conner Kendrick ended the inning with no more damage.
“The last time we led Tech?” Gibson said. “Uh, never?”
Moses survived a drop foul pop in the eighth, and then a two-out single in the ninth.
“It was just an efficient night,” Moses said. “I didn’t have my great stuff, but I went out there and competed.”
Georgia Tech nicked French for one in the first on a single and double, but the senior from Collins Hill then retired seven straight until a two-out walk in the third.Tech starter Matt Grimes sat the first six Bears down and got out of a leadoff walk in the third with a double play. He then got two strikeouts as Mercer wasted a leadoff walk in the fourth as well.
The Yellow Jackets pieced together two singles and an infield hit for a run in the fourth to end French’s afternoon after 3-2/3 with two runs, six strikeouts, a walk and six hits.
“When you play these big schools, they’re gonna get a couple runs,” French said. “You’ve got to limit the damage, and if you do that, you have a chance to win.”
Moses got the final out, a grounder to second, and it was a 2-0 Yellow Jackets lead.
John Moreland broke up Grimes’ no-hitter with a single to right to open the fifth, and Barrett followed with the same.
A strikeout later, Derrick Workman got Mercer on the board with a single to left. An out later, Mercer loaded the bases, but Grimes got Joe Winker on a first-pitch pop out. Tanis led off the sixth with a walk, and on came lefty Taylor Wood, who got a groundout and then whiffed two to end the threat.
Meanwhile, Moses remained sharp, facing a max of four batters in any inning the rest of the way.
Boyd got a leadoff walk in the seventh, and this time, the Bears didn’t waste it. Workman sacrificed and pinch-hitter Nate Moorhouse grounded to first, and then Burns dropped a perfect bunt to third for the run and a hit to tie it at 2.
And the Bears finished things in style.
“Even before the bus ride, Coach Gibson told us, ‘Don’t worry about who you’re playing, just play the game, don’t worry about playing Georgia Tech,’ ” Boyd said. “We weren’t scared off the bus. We haven’t meshed as a team lately. It was good that we were down 2-0 and fought back and got a scrappy win.
”We got people picking each other up, and that’s what it takes to get a good team win.”