Mercer baseball splits with ETSU

The way the Mercer baseball team started playing Sunday afternoon made it seem as if it still had a rain cloud over its head.

Luckily for the Bears, they had an extra game to make up for it.

After being rained out Saturday, Mercer completed a doubleheader against East Tennessee State on Sunday, losing 12-8 in the first game and winning the second contest 10-5.

“It’s tough; you’ve really got to pick yourself up and be ready to play,” said Mercer head coach Craig Gibson, who saw his team go 1-2 in the weekend series after losing to ETSU 6-3 on Friday. “We let the first game get away from us (Sunday). I think Game 3 says more than anything about your club when you do face a little adversity, that you have some fight. And we had some guys that rose to the challenge.”

In the first game, the Buccaneers (12-11, 5-7 A-Sun) jumped out to a quick 4-0 lead in the first inning off Mercer starter Dan April, who gave up three hits and threw 33 pitches before getting out of the inning.

Gibson replaced April with James Kimsey in the second inning.

“Our starting pitcher didn’t give us much,” Gibson said. “He’s got to be better. As a senior, he’s got to fight through it and give us more than that.”

Mercer (8-12, 4-5) finally scored a run in the third inning after an ETSU error. But Mercer allowed the bases to load after two singles and a hit batter, and ETSU’s Troy Mendez seized the opportunity, blasting a grand slam over the right field wall to give the Buccaneers an 8-1 lead.

Ben Allen’s RBI double put Mercer in a 9-1 hole midway through the fourth inning, and Mendez’s two-RBI double gave the Buccaneers an 11-1 advantage in the fourth.

With the game seemingly out of reach, Mercer managed to load the bases in the bottom of the sixth with two walks and a single. Steven Karwatt, perhaps inspired from Mendez’s earlier heroics, hit a grand slam of his own on the first pitch of his at-bat, cutting ETSU’s lead to 11-5.

The Bears continued their comeback effort, scoring three more runs in the next two innings. But Mercer came no closer, with Mendez hitting an RBI single in the top of the ninth to push ETSU’s lead to 12-8 for the final score.

The late-game push in the first contest seemed to re-energize the Bears, who opened the second game by scoring two quick runs in the first inning for an early 2-0 lead. The Buccaneers answered with a two-run homer from designated hitter Danny Petro to tie the score in the top of the second, but Mercer responded with a sacrifice fly from Joe Winker in the third inning to put the Bears on top 3-2. A fielder’s choice later on in the inning allowed Nick DiMauro to score, and Tyler McCarty’s run at the end of the inning pushed Mercer’s lead to three runs.

“I think it carried over,” Gibson said. “We built a little momentum for game two, and (hopefully) we can build some momentum from this game for Tuesday.”

Mercer later extended its lead in the bottom of the fifth, with Karwatt sending a bomb over the left-field wall for a three-run homer. In the two games combined, Karwatt hit two home runs and recorded nine RBI.

“If we had some more guys with the fight in them that (Karwatt) has, we’d be a lot better off,” Gibson said.

The Bears will face Georgia State on Tuesday, who beat Mercer 9-5 earlier this season.

“It’s just like I told our guys, we’ve got to quit putting pressure on ourselves and just play,” Gibson said. “We have a good club, we have a young club, but we’ve just got to play the game and good things will happen.”