Mercer all-stars thrilled with tournament run

August 07, 2003|MIKE MARSEE

When they got a new name, a group of all-star players from Mercer County got an idea of just how far they had come.

The Mercer County 14-year-old all-stars came within two wins of a trip to the Junior League World Series before their dream season ended Wednesday.

But the journey that took them to a plateau reached by precious few area baseball players is one they won't soon forget.

"A lot of people will never realize how big this was," Mercer assistant coach Rick Morgan said.

The Mercer stars were eliminated from the Junior League Central Regional tournament in Fort Wayne, Ind., with a 6-4 loss to Urbandale, Iowa in a semifinal game Wednesday.


Mercer finished with a 3-2 record in the tournament, which featured 12 teams from 11 states.

"We did really good," Morgan said. "When you make the final four in something like that, that's amazing."

They found out they would be called "Kentucky"

Morgan said the players and coaches began to realize how special just getting into the tournament was when they got to Fort Wayne last week and found they would be called "Kentucky."

"They don't call you Mercer County any more," he said. "When you go from Mercer County to representing Kentucky, that throws you for a loop."

Junior League is the division of Little League Baseball just above the Little League level. But it isn't the first level at which many of the Mercer stars have been successful.

"One thing that helped us is that this group of boys is in their sixth year in Little League, and they've won their district four out of six years," Morgan said. "They understand what the state tournament's all about."

Many of the players on this year's team were runners-up in the Little League state tournament two years ago.

They finally got that state championship last month, and Morgan said this is probably the end of the line for them. All but two players would have to move on to the Senior League level, and Morgan said they will probably pass on that level and choose instead to focus on high school baseball.

King Middle went 25-0

Most of the players were part of a King Middle School team that went 25-0 this spring, and Morgan said they're looking forward to making their mark at Mercer County High School.

"They'll be Jeremy's kids now," Morgan said, referring to high school coach Jeremy Shope.

Mercer earned a spot in the elimination round at its regional by going 2-1 in pool play. It then defeated Ypsilanti, Mich., 9-2 in a quarterfinal on Tuesday in what Morgan said was their best game of the tournament.

"We were hitting on all cylinders and we probably had our best pitching performance," Morgan said.

Mercer had 14 hits against Ypsilanti, but the hits wouldn't come on Wednesday, as the team got only five in its loss to top-seeded Urbandale.

"We didn't string any hits together," Morgan said.

Still, Morgan said the loss shouldn't diminish what the team accomplished.

"It's been remarkable, the way they've all bonded together," he said.

Evan Ethington had a team-high eight hits in Mercer's five games, while Matt Yeager had seven and Justin Morgan had six.

Matthew Robertson, Andrew Burke and Josh Carey got the pitching decisions in the team's three wins.

Highlights of the tournament run

Following are the offensive and pitching highlights of the team's tournament run:

* Carey, Ethington, Morgan and Ethan Ashford had two hits each in an 8-5 win over Fort Wayne, Ind. Yeager and Chris Lewis had one hit each, and Lewis and Morgan each drove in runs.

On the mound, Robertson allowed nine hits and four walks and had nine strikeouts in five innings.

* Yeager went 4-for-4 with an RBI in a 10-0 win over South Sioux City, Neb. Morgan had two hits an an RBI, Lewis had one hit and an RBI and Ashford, Burke, Aaron Bee and Stuart Sanders also had one hit each.

Burke was the winning pitcher, striking out six and allowing only two hits and one walk in five innings.

* Mercer was already assured of advancement after two games, so the team tried to conserve its pitchers and took a 7-4 loss to Joplin, Mo., in its final pool play game.

Lewis went 2-for-3 with two home runs and three RBIs, and Ashford produced the other run with a solo homer. Burke, Carey and Yeager also had hits.

Morgan was the losing pitcher, but he had eight strikeouts in 5 1/3 innings.

* Ethington was 3-for-4 with three RBIs and Morgan and Robertson each had two hits and an RBI in the quarterfinal win over Ypsilanti, Mich.

Ashford, Lewis, Carey, Sanders, Bee, Wesley Southworth and Daryl Smith also had hits, and Ashford drove in a run.

Winning pitcher Carey struck out eight, walked one and allowed four hits in a complete-game effort.

* Ashford went 2-for-3 with a home run and three RBIs in the loss to Urbandale, Iowa. Lewis had a hit and an RBI and Yeager also had a hit.

Burke struck out seven and gave up one run and two hits in five innings. Robertson took the loss in relief.

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