The visitors had shown they could bat balls around Dudy Noble Field that evening. This second time around Mercer was making even better contact at the expense of Bulldog pitchers Nick Routt and Evan Mitchell. The left- and right-handed pair were used in the same piggyback approach that had worked well so far this season.
Just, not today.
"They can swing it a bit," agreed Routt (1-1), who took his first loss since the 2011 SEC Tournament. "They've got some pop, balls seemed to be flying off the bat today." Routt and Mitchell split the six runs and each had a longball at their expense.
"Obviously Nick and Evan didn't have their best game today," Coach John Cohen said. "Even though Nick strikes out six and Evan punches out three. The three walks Evan had really hurt us a lot." Routt worked the first 4.0 innings with nine hits for the three runs, no walks and those six fannings. Mitchell took over for 3.0 frames with four hits, three runs, three walks and three strikeouts.
Neither of the alternate moundsmen, or for that matter the relief staff, had an answer for biggest Bear stick Nick Backlund. The designated hitter did just that, with a 4-of-4 afternoon that produced a RBI on his home run in the third inning and another run scored in the seventh. His only failure to hit still wrought a reach as he was plunked by Mitchell in the fifth. Shortstop Evan Boyd was 3-of-4 with two RBI on the ground-rule double in the seventh that really broke it open.
Meanwhile the home team made contact but with just seven safeties to show. Righthander Brandon Barker was that sharp, working 8.0 complete innings and scattering six hits with a lone run against him. He only struck out one, but also issued just two free bases on a walk and plunking. Barker wasn't overpowering, just effective.
"He just did a good job locating pitches, spotting up and changing speeds," said Frazier, one of the few Dogs with any real Saturday success as he was 2-of-4. "We just couldn't get a timely hit, I guess. Tip the hat to him, he had a good day and we didn't play the way we should have."
Mercer came out swinging, with consecutive one-out hits in their first inning. The initial run didn't need contact though as Routt wild-pitched in Logan Gaines. Routt was able to leave one on that inning and get out of some second-inning trouble as a Bear runner got hung-up between home and third on a base hit and was tagged. Mercer would cost themselves some early insurance scores with bad baserunning choices, though this day it did not matter as much.
Such as a pick-off in the top of the third, which meant bases were empty when Backlund sailed his drive over leftfield for a 2-0 lead. An inning later with a runner on third it looked as if Chesny Young was out as he stepped into fair territory to contact his own foul ball. The first base ump overruled a home-plate call, and Young dropped the RBI-single in rightfield.
It was frustrating for Routt. "I was trying to mix my fastball in like I did against Connecticut and we had success. They were able to get out in front and put some balls in play. I felt I was hitting the corners pretty well, they had a good approach and they're a hacking team."
All that the Bulldog batters knew was frustration. Two first-inning singles came to nought as lead runner Frazier was caught stealing. C Mitch Slauter's leadoff hit in the third was erased on a double-play. And in the fourth a walk and single were also wasted. 1B Wes Rea had a 2-0 count and freedom to swing; he did, only to be late and fly to short rightfield. "It's hard for you to take the ball out of his hands," Cohen said. Renfroe grounded into a double play to end another opportunity.
Routt's afternoon ended on a fifth-inning single. Mitchell got a quick out on a failed bunt, forcing the lead runner. Then he nailed Backlund on 2-2, before stranding both on a strikeout and fly ball. But Barker was doing some stranding as well. He put RF Brandon Woodruff on via plunking and was hit by Slauter in the fifth, before coaxing consecutive flies to short center from 2B Matthew Britton and Frazier.
It was Mercer missing chances in their sixth as a single, walk, and bunt had a pair positioned to score. Mitchell got a shorter fly ball to left and a longer one to left to keep the deficit at 3-0.
State finally got on the board as RF Demarcus Henderson reached via a plunking, though the umpires had to huddle before deciding yes, ball struck batter. A bobbled grounder advanced the runner, as did a wild pitch. Rea ended the shutout with a fly ball to rightfield. But it was just one run, and Mercer got that one back on a line-drive over leftfield by Gaines.
It got worse for Mitchell, too, as he had two more Bears in scoring positions with one out. Boyd one-hopped the rightfield fence for a two-run double. A walk later Mitchell got a strikeout but also a wild pitch leaving every base occupied. He struck out ninth-batter D.J. Johnson to leave them.
And, hand the ball to Chad Girodo for the eighth inning with one hit—by Backlund of course—allowed. Trevor Fitts took care of the ninth with a strikeout to show for it.
Frazier was part of one more twin-killing, Mercer's third, in the eighth after his second single. "We found some barrels, we just couldn't get the hit. He got his job done." Until the ninth when Grant Papelian came to the mound in relief and walked Porter. Another change later Dimitri Kourtis gave up a hot shot to Rea that, fittingly for this day, caromed off the shortstop and was turned into an out anyway. Renfroe singled only to be stranded with Porter on a foul-fly.
"They're a good offensive club, I don't want to take anything away from them," Cohen said. "They can hit and the ball seems to fly a little further off their bats than others. They put themselves in position to take good swings." Whereas, the Bulldogs weren't making the same sort of contact, or not often enough. "We just weren't as sharp. As poorly as we pitched it those are days you have to come out and score. And we didn't score, we were getting beat on 87, 88 mile per hour fastballs."
The Bulldogs were playing a second full game without the services of three starters sidelined by injuries. None will be back any sooner than next weekend, and that is best case for CF C.T. Bradford. 3B Daryl Norris and OF Brent Bracewell are out for at least a month.
With such things beyond control, Cohen said others now should maximize their chance to start and play. "Every time one door closes another one opens. Guys get opportunities."
The next one is Sunday with a 1:00 start time (daylight savings time begins). Cohen had not picked the game-three pitcher(s) as of filing.