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Mercer County baseball drops district semifinal at East Jessamine 5-4

By JOE MATHIS

Contributing Writer

NICHOLASVILLE — It was an odd start to the Mercer County vs. East Jessamine 46th District tournament game.

The game started Monday, was suspended due to lightning after just a half inning and took just about 24 hours to complete after the game resumed Tuesday.

A game that started off in such strange fashion deserved a strange ending and that’s exactly what the Titans and Jaguars gave fans in a 5-4 East Jessamine win.

It all started Monday night when the Jaguars — who played at home but were the visitors on the scoreboard due to them earning the tournament’s number three seed — took a 2-0 lead over Mercer after an RBI groundout by Zach Perrin and a ground ball by Cam Thompson that Mercer’s defense misplayed, allowing another Jaguar run to cross.

In the bottom of the first, Mercer County’s Noah Irvin hit a two out single to reach base. That’s when the lightning came, suspending the game and forced the rest of it to be played Tuesday.

Fast forward 22 hours later and that’s where the story begins. And the theme of the story remained the same nearly throughout the first half of the game: Mercer County had trouble getting hits with men on base.

In the bottom of the first, the Titans left two runners on base, then East added one more run to its lead in the top half of the second on an RBI single by Kade Greathouse to make it 3-0.

In the bottom half of the frame it was more of the same for Mercer. Dillon Warren doubled with one out, then two batters later, Cameron Warren walked to put two runners on for the Titans with two outs.

But again, Mercer failed to cash in on a scoring chance.

The biggest chance for Mercer County, however, came in the bottom of the third.

Andrew McGinnis and Irvin led off the inning with back-to-back singles, then with one out, Mason Smith laid down a beautiful bunt that caught the East Jessamine defense by surprise.

The bunt loaded the bases for Mercer County with one out but, again, East’s Ben Thompson worked out of danger, inducing a pop-out and a strikeout to leave the bases loaded.

Through the first three innings, the Titans left seven men on base.

But Mercer wasn’t done fighting.

Starting pitcher Mason Smith, who went six innings, giving up four hits, three runs (two earned), and struck out six worked around a threat in the top of the fourth after East moved a man to third with one out.

The Titans’ bats came alive in the bottom half of the inning.

Landon McGinnis led off the bottom of the fourth with a single and two batters later, Mercer County catcher Hunter Armstrong took a 2-1 fastball to deep right center field for a two run home-run to quickly cut the East Jessamine lead to 3-2.

“Hunter has been clutch for us all year,” Mercer head coach Adam Shartzer said. “He was in a good spot. He just missed one Monday night and (this time) he found a barrel.”

That 3-2 lead would last just two more batters.

Andrew McGinnis would single after Armstrong’s home run. He moved to second on a passed ball and three pitches after that, Irvin grounded one through the hole on the left side, scoring McGinnis to tie the game at three.

The score remained tied at three as Smith battled against East Jessamine’s Perrin, who came in the game for starting pitcher Ben Thompson in the bottom of the fourth.

 

The Titans made their first pitching change to begin the top of the seventh as Shartzer signaled Warren in from shortstop. Warren would face four batters, retiring one but walking two and hitting another to load the bases before Shartzer, again, made a pitching change, this time summoning Andrew McGinnis.

Andrew McGinnis struck out Cam Thompson for a big second out before things got wild as East Jessamine gambled and made it pay off.

With the bases still loaded and two outs, East head coach Erinn Thompson signaled for his runner on third base, Storm Wilson, to attempt to steal home. Wilson took off, but as he did, McGinnis balked, allowing Wilson to score without a throw to give East Jessamine a 4-3 lead.

After every base runner moved up a base due to the balk, exactly one pitch later, Ben Thompson took off for home, successfully stealing it, and gave East a 5-3 lead.

The Jaguars would need both of those runs to make the lead hold up.

In the bottom of the seventh, Smith hit a 1-0 fastball over the left field fence to cut the Jaguars lead to 5-4 but Perrin would strike out the next two hitters, ending the game and Mercer County’s season in the district semifinals.

And though it was a heartbreaking loss, Shartzer says this group of seniors laid the foundation for future teams through their hard work and determination.

“This group of seniors is very special to me,” he said. “They were sophomores when I started with the program. I got to see them develop from the JV level all the way up to their final game. Every one of them has as bright future ahead of them.”

As for East Jessamine, the district semifinal win automatically advances them to only their second region tournament since 2006. The Jaguars will play rival West Jessamine in tonight’s 46th District championship game. The winner of that game will play host to next week’s 12th Region baseball tournament.