Cox comes through in tourney opener
After losing its final three games of the regular season, Mercer’s baseball team got back on track Wednesday in the Southern Conference Tournament.
The Bears jumped on top with five runs in the first inning and added two more in the second and cruised to an 11-6 win over VMI.
Mercer improves to 39-15, while VMI drops to 23-33 with its fourth loss to Mercer this season.
The Mercer offense was strong throughout with seven extra-base hits, including two home runs.
Four who mattered
Austin Cox: The sophomore and former FPD standout got the start on the mound. He struck out seven and allowed six hits and four runs in five innings to improve to 4-2.
Ryan Hagan: The Southern Conference Player of the Year went 2-for-5 with two runs scored and a solo home run.
JT Thomas: Mercer’s junior designated hitter had three hits and four RBI in five at-bats.
Charlie Madden: The Bears’ senior catcher hit a grand slam in the first inning and finished 3-for-4 with four RBI and two runs scored. He has 15 career RBI in this tournament.
VMI took the lead in the top of the first with a run, but Mercer responded with a run in the bottom half of the inning to tie it. Still with no outs and the bases loaded, Madden came through in the clutch with a blast over Fluor Field’s Green Monster in left field.
Good approach: Mercer’s offense struggled a bit to end the season, but the Bears were patient and efficient in their at-bats Wednesday, drawing eight walks and piling up 12 hits.
The Broom comes out: Mercer relief ace Robert Broom relieved Cox and pitched two innings of shutout ball, striking out four.
Strong at the SoCon: Mercer improved to 8-2 all-time at this tournament, winning it in 2015 and reaching the championship round last year.
Weather issues: The game was hit by a 31-minute delay in the seventh, but that’s much better than the forecast, which called for the first two days of the tournament to be wiped out by rain.
They said it
Mercer head coach Craig Gibson on the win: “It was a good day for us, but we have to keep playing well going forward. It is good to win game one. We struggled in the top of the first, but Cox rebounded to give us a quality start, and I thought our bullpen was outstanding.”
Gibson on his offense: “We were offensive (Wednesday), and that is what we needed. Our bats came alive, and that is what we are going to need against a talented Furman club (Thursday). We got a couple balls of out the park (Wednesday). It is a great park, but it plays small, so if you put a good swing on one, you have a chance to hit it out.”
Cox on getting the win: “It was awesome. It’s a great opportunity. It’s an awesome experience just to get out there in game one and get the win. We’ve just got to keep it rolling for three more.”
Thomas on the offense: “It was a great start for us. We’ve been stumbling a little bit the past couple of times, but we got out and swung the bats good, and it showed on the scoreboard.”
Mercer faces Furman at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday. The Paladins beat Wofford 13-3 on Wednesday. Mercer swept Furman in the regular season.