Mercer (25-9) got it done the same way it won each of its three regional games this week at Southwestern — by hitting the ball all over the park. The Titans scored in double figures for the third straight game and the fourth time in five postseason games, and they finished the regional with 44 runs on 45 hits in 18 innings.
They earned a berth in the state tournament at Whitaker Bank Ballpark in Lexington, where they will play the 16th Region champion in a first-round game June 14. Boyd County and Ashland Blazer will play Saturday in the 16th Region finals.
The Titans said they think they can maintain their momentum even through a layoff that will last nearly two weeks.
“We’ve got a chance to do some big things the way we’re hitting the ball, and we don’t want this to end,” said Clay Cinnamon, one of the Titans’ eight seniors.
On Wednesday, however, they were only interested in celebrating a Mercer first.
“This means everything to us,” said winning pitcher Matthew Honchel, another senior. “This is the first one in school history, and this is what we’re here for. Obviously we’re not done — we’re going to try and make it far in state, and hopefully win it — but this is the second step, districts, then region, and it means a ton to the team.”
The clinching win did not come as easily as Mercer’s wins over Lincoln County and Pulaski County in the first two rounds of the tournament. The Titans left four runners on base in the first two innings before getting on the board, and they saw Somerset (26-11) light up the scoreboard in its first at-bat.
“We’ve been loose, and I knew that there would be a little tension in there,” Shope said. “And we were playing a good ballclub, a ballclub that’s going to put pressure on you. We regained our composure and ended up finding some barrels, and it just took a couple of hits to remember what it was like the past two nights.”
Catcher Addam Gooch, one of two Titans who had three hits, said the players were confident that the hits would come.
“We didn’t have any worries. We knew we were going to hit the ball. It was just a matter of time,” Gooch said.
It happened in the third inning, when leadoff batter Clay Cinnamon reached base on an error and Honchel singled him to third. Cinnamon scored on a balk, Colin Buckner drove in Honchel with a single, and two more batters reached base before Gooch drew a bases-loaded walk. John Ingram then delivered a two-out, two-run single to give Mercer a 5-4 lead.
Somerset answered with two runs in the bottom of the third and scored once more to go up 7-6 after Honchel led off the fourth with a home run to left field.
But the Briar Jumpers’ offense was essentially done for the night after that, while the Titans kept pounding baseballs into the outfield.
Gooch led off the fifth inning with a double and scored on Cinnamon’s one-out single, and a Honchel ground ball resulted in an error that scored Ingram and put Mercer in front to stay at 8-7.
Somerset starter J.P. Henderlight allowed nine hits and five walks in five innings, and reliever Alex Lange surrendered singles to the first three batters in the sixth and was promptly replaced by Erik Manning.
Gooch’s third hit of the night drove in Anthony Patterson, Seth Heath scored after his third hit on a wild pitch by Manning and Gooch scored the Titans’ final run on the fourth Somerset error of the night.
“We made a lot of little mistakes that turned into big innings, and it seemed like it allowed Mercer County to stay in there and bat for about 45 minutes in a couple different innings,” Somerset coach Phillip Grundy said. “That’s just a lot for pitchers to have to battle through.”