"Me and Michael have to get the runs on the board," Wickliffe said. "In the middle of the lineup, we know we've got to do what it takes for the team to win."
Wickliffe left the game in the bottom of the third inning after his eyelid was cut by a cleat belonging to Burgin second baseman Shane Trayner, who had to dive to field the throw when Wickliffe stole second base.
"When I got up, all I saw out of that eye was blood," he said.
But moments later, when Mercer took the field for the fourth inning, Wickliffe was back on the mound.
"I was surprised but I was glad I got to go back out," he said.
Shope not surprised by Wickliffe's quick comeback
Wickliffe's quick comeback - facilitated by quick work from Mercer trainer-turned-cut man Todd Davis - didn't surprise coach Jeremy Shope, who never warmed up a relief pitcher.
"John has been nails for us all year long," Shope said. "He went off and got himself situated, and he was ready to pitch."
Wickliffe clearly looked uncomfortable in his next inning - "I was a little dizzy at first, and it felt like I got something in my eye," - yet he retired the last 11 batters he faced, including nine after the injury, and allowed only two hits and one walk in six innings before giving way to Bottoms, who slammed the door by throwing a scoreless seventh inning.
"Sometimes when you don't feel your best, it makes you focus a little more," Shope said.
The Scotties remained fo-cused even after falling behind in the second inning, when Burgin scored an unearned run on a double by Seth Trayner.
"I was a little disappointed," Wickliffe said. "But we were never worried. We knew we could hit."
Mercer came from behind to win its second straight district crown and its fourth in five years. The Scotties collected seven of their nine hits in the fateful fifth inning.
"I said before the game, 'I want to win this ballgame at the plate,'" Shope said. "I've got confidence in our pitching and defense, but I felt like we would win with our hitting. It took us a while to win it at the plate, but we finally did."
Bottoms' homer was the biggest blow
The biggest blow was Bottoms' homer, which came on the very next pitch after Burgin assistant coach John Powell went to the mound to talk to pitcher Daniel Howard, who fell behind 2-0 in the count.
"John went out and told Daniel to nit-pick inside and not give him anything to hit," Burgin coach Terry Pitman said. "I wanted to go ahead and walk him after the fact."
The Scotties' offense didn't stop there, as a squeeze bunt by Andy Potts produced a run and a single by Brandon Scheller plated another before the inning ended.
The fifth inning was the only rough one for Howard, a sophomore who had only two walks and pitched out of trouble in each of the first four innings.
"I think Daniel's one of the best, if not the best, sophomore pitcher around," Pitman said. "You've got to be pleased with a sophomore having that good a game."
Mercer's nine hits included two by No. 9 hitter Justin Morgan.
Burgin totaled only three hits.
The Bulldogs will advance along with Mercer to the 12th Region Tournament - pairings will be drawn today for the tourney this week at North Laurel - for the second straight year.
"We're going to the region, and that was one of our goals," Pitman said.
Josh Anderson, Harrodsburg; Michael Bottoms, Mercer County; Sean Bottoms, Burgin; Josh Carey, Burgin; Tim Lester, Harrodsburg; Zack Doan, Garrard County; Zack Gross, Burgin; Jordan Johnson, Garrard County; Kameron McRay, Mercer County; Andy Potts, Mercer County; John Wickliffe, Mercer County.