Mercer head coach reacts to 10-6 loss to FAU in NCAA Athens Regional
Mercer’s Sawyer Gipson-Long barely turned to watch as Bobby Morgensen made contact with his fourth-inning pitch as it sailed over the wall to plate a pair of key runs for Florida Atlantic.
It turned out to be the beginning of the end for the Bears and they watched their season come to a close less than 24 hours after losing to Georgia in the first round of the NCAA Athens Regional.
This time it was a 10-6 loss in a game that wasn’t close until the Bears got rolling in the final two innings of play.
“I wish we had started out the way we finished,” head coach Craig Gibson said. “It just didn’t happen like that. I thought we fought hard at the end.”
Prior to Saturday’s matchup, Gibson said he hoped for a low-scoring game against FAU, a team with a lot of pop.
For a little while, it appeared Gibson would get his wish as neither team could cash-in on early game opportunities, like Mercer stranding a pair in scoring position in the second inning.
This proved to be costly when the Owls offense started to build momentum in the third inning and a sacrifice fly brought in the first run of the game.
A fourth inning homer by Morgensen would ignite the offense as two more runs would come across in the inning before Gibson-Long finally worked the Bears out of the jam.
That would be the end of his afternoon as he gave way to senior Nick Spear who put together a pair of scoreless innings to steady the Bears for a short while.
Taylor Lobus came on in the seventh inning and once again Morgensen would find a way to fire up the Owls offense with his second long ball of the game, this one a three-run homer. He also had a pair in the team’s opening loss to Florida State.
Five runs would come across before the Bears turned to senior leader Kevin Coulter to get them out of the inning. The Bears were never able to get into a rhythm on offense after looking unstoppable last week in the Southern Conference tournament.
“It was special. Kevin Coulter is one of... the greatest competitors I’ve ever had a chance to be around,” Gibson said. “It was bittersweet to go up and he came off the field for the last time. It is a long journey.”
Much like the opening game loss to Georgia, Mercer couldn’t string together enough hits to make a difference.
The Bears were able to load the bases in the bottom of the seventh but could not cash-in on the opportunity. Coulter, in his final game for the Bears, recorded a pair of quick outs in the eighth before leaving to a standing ovation from Mercer supporters in attendance.
Kel Johnson, the graduate transfer from Georgia Tech, hit a towering shot over the left field wall for his 23rd home run of the season. He nearly hit one earlier in the game before Morgensen pulled it back inside the park with a highlight reel catch. This one was never in doubt as it dropped over the trees in one of the deepest parts of the park.
“I had hit one good the time before but the guy scaled the wall and brought it back. I was trying to get us going a couple innings before,” Johnson said. “We needed a big comeback and we fell a little short but we definitely fought.”
It also got the Bears offense going as they began to string together hits to plate four more runs in the inning. Once again they would leave a pair stranded in scoring position as the two teams headed into the 9th with the score 10-5 in FAU’s favor.
Freshman center fielder Collin Price hit a long bomb to open the bottom of the 9th to get Mercer within four but that was close as they would come.
The Bears were unable to keep the rally going, coming up just short by a score of 10-6 as Kyle Dockus grounded into a double play to end the game with a pair on.
“I did tell our guys that we are certainly upset and not satisfied but at the end of the day there was only going to be one team walking away happy,” Gibson said. “We are not happy. We were in position to do some special things.”