Mercer topples West Jessamine to claim 46th district championship

Published 11:00 pm Monday, May 20, 2019


Contributing writer

NICHOLASVILLE — It had been seven years since a team not named West Jessamine had won the 46th district championship.

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On top of that, it had been more than five years since Mercer County had beaten their district rival West Jessamine.

For the past 13 games, Mercer County had tried to top the Colts but had continued to fall short. They didn’t fall short on Monday night.

Led by timely hitting and a gem thrown by starting pitcher Josh Barnett, Mercer County topped West Jessamine 6-2 to win their first district title since 2011 and snap a 13-game skid to the Colts.

The first inning went by in a breeze — West starter Ethan Davis threw only 11 pitches to retire Mercer County to begin the game, while Barnett only needed 13 to equal his counterpart.

The second inning, though, gave Barnett a tad bit more trouble. After Mercer went down in order in the top of the frame, Barnett led off the bottom half hitting West batter Nathan Skipworth on the first pitch of the inning. After retiring the next hitter, Barnett again hit a West batter, this time Landry Byrd, to put two runners on base with nobody out. However, they wouldn’t advance any further as Barnett struck out the next two batters to escape the early jam.

Barnett pitched around more danger in the third. A leadoff walk to Jackson Green and a third hit by pitch issued by the senior, this one to Nick Lee, allowed West to put two runners on to lead off the bottom of the third. Green and Lee were then bunted over on a sacrifice to put two runners in scoring position with one out.

Barnett, though, didn’t panic. He proceeded to strike out Nathaniel Frank for the second out before West tried one of baseball’s riskiest plays — a steal of home. On a 2-1 count, Barnett threw a breaking ball as Green broke toward home from third base. It proved no problem for Titans catcher Jamason Sherrow. He caught Barnett’s breaking ball, then applied the tag on Green two steps from the plate as he tried to slide in safely, allowing Barnett to escape again.

“I struggled with the off-speed the first couple of innings. I just wasn’t able to break it off at the right pace,” Barnett said of the early hit by pitches he issued. “But I always like the pressure. I like to push myself through it. It makes me better as a pitcher and a person.”

Soon after that, Mercer County’s offense got to work.

The Titans led off the top of the fourth with three straight base runners to load the bases after Tanner Murphy singled, Dillon Warren reached on an error and Nathan Tatum walked. Sherrow then lined one up the middle that was knocked down on a diving play by Byrd, but he was unable to throw anyone out.

Sherrow’s hit drove home Murphy to put the Titans up 1-0.

Mercer County would add another run as Davis threw one past catcher Grayson Hellard, allowing Warren to dart for home and make it 2-0. That signaled the end of the day for Davis, who gave way to freshman pitcher Braden Welch. He would promptly give up a sacrifice fly to Sam Baughman, which sent Tatum home to make it 3-0. Cayden Devine then singled into left field to allow Sherrow’s courtesy runner John Bugg to score to make it 4-0.

That was more than enough run support for Barnett who, despite the base runners in the second and third, didn’t allow his first hit until Blake Crockett tripled to right field to lead off the bottom of the fourth. Byrd followed Crockett up by lining one into right for an RBI single but it was all West could muster. Again, Barnett pitched around trouble, limited the damage and held Mercer’s lead at 4-1.

The score would stay 4-1 until Mercer County padded their lead with two more in the top of the sixth.

Tatum led off the sixth with a line drive double to left. He stayed at second base for just one pitch, when Sherrow knocked the first delivery he saw into left to score Tatum, accounting for his second RBI of the game.

The Titans loaded the bases up for the second time after Baughman walked and Devine reached on a bunt single. Then, for the second time, they drove in a run with a sacrifice fly as Sammy Berger lifted one to right field to allow Bugg to score for the second time running for Sherrow to extend Mercer’s lead to 6-1.

Barnett easily worked through West’s hitters in the bottom of the sixth and after Mercer County went down without a run in the top of the seventh the Titans were three outs away from a district title.

West tried to make things interesting, too. Davis led off the bottom of the seventh with the Colts second triple. Barnett fanned Green for his ninth strikeout but Lee singled two pitches into his at-bat to chase Davis home and trim Mercer’s lead to 6-2.

Barnett collected strikeout number 10 on Hunter Peel for the second out of the home seventh. That left Barnett just one out away from a complete game — except, it didn’t happen.

West Jessamine’s stats showed Barnett had reached the 125 pitch maximum that a pitcher is allowed to throw in a game. Mercer’s numbers showed Barnett at 118 pitches, but Titans head coach Adam Shartzer was forced to yank Barnett just a batter away from a complete game.

“I was upset at first,” Barnett said. “I wanted it but I understood. I had a strong freshman in behind me and I knew that he was going to do his job so I was thankful for that.”

That freshman was Cayden Devine, who threw only four pitches, induced a ground-out, and allowed Mercer County celebrate a district championship.

“It feels good. We’re just excited because we get to keep playing,” Shartzer said. “It’s a good group of boys and they just fight. They find a way and that’s what they did.”

Barnett’s gem paced Mercer County and continued a hot streak for him. Over Barnett’s three starts in the month of May, he’s thrown 20.2 innings, surrendered 11 hits, given up only three earned runs and struck out 30 batters. Those three starts have come against Boyle County, Danville and West Jessamine, and all of them have been wins.

“He’s one of the hottest pitchers in the state. He’s gotta be,” Shartzer said. “He settled down after the control issues, settled in, and just kept them off balance. He did a heck of a job.”

Next up for Mercer County is the 12th region tournament. The Titans don’t know yet who they’ll play — the 12th region draw isn’t until Thursday — but Shartzer says it feels good to be back after missing out last year.

“We’re lucky enough to be there and I think we can make a run. We are playing some good ball right now.”

Barnett agrees.

“I think this is a special team. It’s one of the most talented that I’ve been apart of and I’m excited to see what we can do.”