HARRODSBURG — From the very beginning, it was clear this would not be Mercer County’s day.
The Titans couldn’t get anybody out, couldn’t get anybody in and couldn’t keep West Jessamine from taking its turn as 46th District champion. Mercer never threatened after falling behind 6-0 in the first two innings, and No. 9 West Jessamine rolled to an 8-1 victory in the district title game Tuesday night at Amos Black Field.
The Colts and Titans have met in the district finals for six straight years — Mercer is 2-4 in those games — and have alternated as district champions for the last five years, and this was West Jessamine’s turn in that sequence.
“Our two teams, West Jessamine and Mercer County, have been known to compete in baseball, and we’ve had to compete several times in the district championship,” Mercer coach Jeremy Shope said.
The two teams had split their two regular-season games, and Josh Carroll, who started for West Jessamine on Tuesday, had been roughed up by Mercer when the teams last met three weeks ago. The Titans scored six runs in the sixth inning to rally from a 4-1 deficit for a 7-3 win, and some of those runs were charged to Carroll. But this time the West Jessamine left-hander was in control, as he allowed one run on three hits over 5 2/3 innings to fare far better in a far more important game.
“Lots of men left on base, and we just never could get it going offensively. It seemed like we were out in front of everything,” Shope said.
Mercer (20-12) left nine runners on base, including at least one in six of the seven innings. And the Titans had a hair trigger at the plate, putting the first pitch in play eight times, all of which resulted in outs.
Carroll and reliever Dakota Greer struck out only four batters, while 10 of Mercer’s 27 outs came on fly balls to the outfield.
“I liked our aggressiveness, I just think we didn’t let the ball travel. You’ve got to be able to let the ball travel (deep into the strike zone) to drive the ball. We hit the ball out in front of the zone and popped everything up,” Shope said.
Mercer had only five hits, three of which came in its last two at-bats.
And the Titans found themselves in a deep hole before they ever took their first swing. The first six West Jessamine batters reached base against Mercer starter J.T. Long, and four of them came around to score.
The Colts tacked on two more runs in the second inning, sending eight batters to the plate for the second straight inning. They built their 6-0 lead on seven hits, two walks, two hit batsmen and two Mercer errors.
“It seemed like with two strikes they would stick the bat out there and the ball would fall in,” Mercer coach Jeremy Shope said. “Hats off to them for competing at the plate. They just had balls that fell in and we didn’t.”
Mercer will play on, as it will join West Jessamine (31-5) in the field for the 12th Region Tournament, which begins Monday at Danville.
This was the Titans’ first home loss to the Colts since the 2009 regular season, ending a four-game winning streak.
“It’s hard to win out here,” West Jessamine coach Jody Hamilton said. “They’re going to play you tough. We lost the No. 1 seed out here (in the regular-season loss), and it was not good, but that’s baseball.”
That loss was probably the farthest thing from the Colts’ minds as they stormed toward Greer at the pitcher’s mound following the final out. And one of the first players to reach the mound was Carroll, whom Hamilton said made the most of the early lead he was given.
“That makes the pitches come out of your hand easier,” Hamilton said. “We were glad to get the runs. (And) Josh did a heck of a job tonight. He battled, and we’re tickled to death.”
Trey Merida, Tyler Pasch, Tyler Ward and Michael Oaks had two hits for West Jessamine, and seven of the nine players in the batting order had at least one.
Long gave up six runs on nine hits in five innings, and Banks gave up two runs on three hits in the sixth inning to give West Jessamine an 8-0 lead before Mercer got on the board in the bottom of that inning.
Carroll gave up a one-out double to Tyler Devine and hit Matthew Sims with a pitch with two outs, prompting Hamilton to replace him with sophomore Dakota Greer. Luke Bosse greeted Greer with an RBI single before Greer stranded two runners, and he retired three straight batters after a leadoff single in the seventh to complete the Colts’ win.
Mercer now has five days to regroup before beginning the defense of its 12th Region championship Monday, and Shope said the Titans will be busy.
“We’ll just go right back to work,” he said. “You can lay down and quit or you can go right back to work. I don’t believe in laying down and quitting; I believe in going back to work.”
46th District Tournament
At Mercer County
West Jessamine 420 002 0 — 8 13 1
Mercer County 000 001 0 — 1 5 3
Josh Carroll, Dakota Greer (6) and Michael Oaks. J.T. Long, John Banks (6) and Alex Guay. W—Carroll. L—Long. 2B—Trey Merida (WJ), Tyler Devine (MC).