(Alex Lockwood / Cluster Staff) Joe Winker (far right) receives a tip of the cap from his teammates after a three homerun game against Liberty this past weekend.
The defending Atlantic Sun Champions looked stellar in their opening series of the 2011 campaign, taking three of four in a series against the highly touted Liberty Flames of Lynchburg, Virginia. Friday night’s season opener was a come-from-behind thriller for the Bears as they opened the series with a 6-4 win followed by a pair of clobberings, 7-2 and 17-5, during the doubleheader slated for Saturday. Sunday afternoon’s game turned into a pitcher’s duel with Mercer ultimately falling 5-4.
It was the type of start head coach Craig Gibson could have hoped for against a team that went 42-19 in 2010. Perhaps one of their biggest non-conference series of the spring, Mercer will now continue to tune-up against regional competition before the Atlantic Sun schedule starts March 4 in Nashville when the Bears take on Belmont in Rose Park for a three game series.
Mercer 6, Liberty 4
The Bears pushed across two runs in the bottom of the eighth inning to win a sell-out opening night after a rocky start in the first inning. Starter Matt McCall was shelled for three runs to open the game, but Mercer’s pitching staff kept the Flames relatively quiet for the remainder of the contest as reliever David Teasley would pick up the win with his two innings of work.
A pair of freshman, Derrick Workman and DJ Johnson, would help Mercer launch a comeback in the fourth inning with an RBI doubles to score three runs. Catcher Jason Butts would later knock in leadoff hitter Billy Burns to tie the game at 4-4.
Late in the eighth frame, Thomas Carroll would come up big for the Bears with his first hit of the season, driving in Jacob Tanis followed by another RBI-groundout from Butts. Teasley would finish off Liberty with three straight strikeouts in a thriller.
Mercer 7, Liberty 2
Saturday afternoon’s first game started off with a bang for the Bears, five runs in the first two innings courtesy of a pair of homeruns from shortstop Evan Boyd and first basemen John Moreland. Brandon Love would last for five strong innings, holding Liberty to only two runs on five hits as Mercer finished off Liberty in a quick contest.
Tempers would erupt from the Flames dugout in a heavily disputed balk called on Mercer’s pitcher, resulting in an ejection of Liberty’s third base coach. Nevertheless, the spark of anger couldn’t fuel the Flames’ fire as Mercer would race out to their second win of the year.
Mercer 17, Liberty 5
Fans sitting on the right field wall may have mistaken the game for a homerun derby as Mercer clubbed eight home runs in a laugher. Senior DH Joe Winker (5-6, 3 HR, 5 RBI) had a career day from the plate and joined in the long-ball hitting shenanigans with teammates Derrick Workman (4-4, 2 HR, 3 RBI), Billy Burns (3-5, 1 HR, 2 RBI), Jacob Tanis (1-3, 1 HR, 2 RBI), and Travis Benn (1-6, 1 HR, 1 RBI).
Brandon Barker, a freshman, pitched well into the fifth inning, while Teasley (2-0) and a host of other pitchers maintained Mercer’s dominant grip on the contest.
Liberty 5, Mercer 4
In perhaps the closest battle of the series, Mercer simply couldn’t muster the offensive firepower that they had displayed on Saturday. Starting pitcher Keegan Minza settled down after a 2-0 first inning lead for Mercer courtesy of RBIs from Evan Boyd and Thomas Carroll. The Flames would mount a comeback in the fourth inning, scoring three innings off of Justice French before eventually knocking him out of the game in the fifth after a line drive grazed his hand.
Down 4-2 in the bottom of the sixth, Jacob Tanis would offer a moonshot to the fans in the outfield to tie the score 4-4, but the lead would be short-lived. David Teasley, relieving in his third game of the weekend, would overthrow the first basemen in an attempted pickoff, allowing a runner from third to score. Flame relievers Garrett Baker and Josh Richardson were stealth in their 3.2 innings of work at the end, allowing only two hits to give Liberty their first win of 2011.