Mercer baseball blanked by Western Carolina

Western Carolina scored twice in the first inning and starter Bryan Sammons and three relievers made it stand up as the Catamounts beat Mercer 3-0 in the second game of a three-game Southern Conference baseball series Saturday afternoon at Claude Smith Field.

“We certainly had our chances, but we just didn’t win any of the big moments in the game,” said Mercer head coach Craig Gibson, whose team stranded 11 baserunners. “Give Western Carolina credit, because they got ahead early and got great pitching, but it’s tough to get shut out at our place when we are hitting with aluminum bats. But no game in this conference is easy, and they have won this conference the last two years, so give them all the credit.”

Western Carolina (15-15, 7-4 conference) jumped on Mercer starter Grant Papelian in the first inning. Matt Smith led off with a single and advanced to second on a groundout. Bradley Strong doubled, scoring Smith, and Strong crossed the plate one out later on a Brett Pope single.

Mercer (21-15, 8-3) threatened in the second, loading the bases off of Sammons, but Sammons struck out Trey Truitt to end the inning. Mercer put two men on base in both the third and the fifth but could not come up with a big hit.

Papelian, meanwhile, settled down and cruised for the next five innings, allowing only two hits and no runs. Western Carolina finally got to him again in the seventh, scoring once on a double by Strong that scored Austin Atwell for the game’s final run.

Truitt led off the bottom of the seventh with a double and Matt Meeder walked, ending Sammons’ day, and Devin Bonin walked to load the bases with none out. But Western Carolina’s Corey Sikes pitched out of trouble, getting Kyle Lewis on a shallow fly ball to center and inducing Jackson Ware into grounder to third base that ended up being a double play to end the inning.

That became the closest that the Bears came to scoring.

“Grant Papelian gave us a great effort, and I am very proud of him,” Gibson said. “He got roughed up a little bit in the first inning and gave us a great chance to win the ballgame, and he has really done that all year for us. I am just disappointed that we couldn’t give him any run support.”

Gibson will go back to Friday’s starter, Eric Nyquist, to start Sunday’s 1 p.m. series finale. Nyquist was roughed up in the first game of the series, giving up six runs on six hits in 1-1/3 inning of work, but Mercer went on to win the game 11-8.

“We have to have a better performance from Eric than we got Friday and he only threw 35 pitches in that game, so we feel like he is good to go,” Gibson said. “Hopefully we can give him some runs early and win the series.”