After being subjected to a pitching clinic by East Tennessee State's Kerry Doane on Friday, Mercer had to wait all day Saturday to get back in the batter's box and make amends.
A long graduation ceremony pushed back the night-time start 20 minutes, further extending the Bears' anxiety.
It was worth the wait.
Mercer sent nine batters to the plate in the six-run second inning and maintained a cushion en route to a 12-7 win Saturday night in A-Sun action at Claude Smith Field.
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Not that Mercer head coach Craig Gibson was all that thrilled.
"Some bad baseball," he said. "It was tough. Got to play better."
The game started about 20 minutes late because of graduation ceremonies.
Mercer will honor its six seniors – Evan Boyd, Travis Benn, David Randall, David Reid-Foley, Logan Gaines and David Teasley – before Sunday's finale, in which the Bears will try to tie the school record for wins.
Mercer knew before the first pitch that a win put the Bears back in a tie for first with North Florida. The Ospreys lost 7-5 earlier Saturday to Florida Gulf Coast.
ETSU clinched its spot in the tournament with Friday's 1-0 win. Stetson did the same thing at the same time in beating last-place Northern Kentucky 3-2. FGCU is also in the tournament, with Kennesaw State next in line to clinch.
Sunday's play will begin with two games separating the top five teams: Mercer and North Florida are tied at 16-7, FGCU is 15-8, with ETSU and Stetson at 14-9.
Mercer (38-14 overall) watched its six-run lead cut in half early on, and then regained control only for ETSU (29-21) to rally again. The Bears ran through six pitchers to keep the battling Bucs in check.
Mercer sent nine to the plate in the second against starter Logan Rice, mixing in three hits with three walks for the six runs. Austin Barrett and Boyd had RBI hits, while a run came in on a walk, a wild pitch and on Chesny Young's grounder.
Randall left in the third with a 2-0 count on Jeremy Taylor and a runner on first, Gibson impatient with Randall's effectiveness.
"I guess with graduation, a lot of distractions and stuff," Gibson said. "But we've got a deep bullpen and we went to it."
Reliever Ben Lumsden got an out, and then got in trouble. He hit Dylan Tritsch, and induced a fly that pushed a runner to third. Kevin Phillips followed an intentional walk with a two-run single to bring the Bucs within 6-3.
"We didn't get a good start," Gibson said. "You go out there and struggle early, it sort of sets the tone."
Mercer added one in the fourth on Gaines' double and Reid-Foley's single, and Lumsden escaped a first-and-third situation in the fourth. Three straight singles, a walk and fielder's choice led to two more in Mercer's fourth and a 9-3 lead.
"We weren't good situationally, but we scored some runs," said Gibson, whose team stranded eight, four fewer than ETSU. "But when they come back ..."
Mercer added two in the fifth for a seemingly comfortable 11-3 lead.
But ETSU got to Lumsden again in the sixth, and he was on the hook for three runs even after giving way to Grant Papelian and Teasley as the Bucs scored three on three singles, a walk and crucial error.
"We walk five or six guys, and hit a batter, and you give up 12 hits," said Gibson, whose staff walked seven and struck out 11. "That's 18 baserunners."
Mercer doubled up ETSU with one in the sixth, but the Bucs got it back in the seventh to pull within 12-7. Morgan Pittman and Dimitri Kourtis finished on the mound for Mercer.
Young had three hits and two RBI, while Sasha LaGarde and Gaines had two hits apiece. Lumsden got the win to improve to 4-2.
"When you score some runs, you've got some margin for error," Gibson said. "But (I) expect us to be better than (Saturday)."