MACON, Ga. (May 12, 2013) – Travis Benn and Nick Backlund hit solo home runs and four Mercer pitchers combined for a six-hit shutout as the 21st-ranked Bears took the series over ETSU with a 2-0 win on Sunday afternoon at Claude Smith Field.
Benn led off the third inning with a solo homer and Backlund followed with his team-leading 13th round-tripper of the year in the fourth, while starter DJ Johnson tossed 6.2 scoreless innings to earn his sixth win of the season. Johnson also struck out eight hitters, while Mercer’s staff combined to punch out 11 Buccaneer batters on the day. Dimitri Kourtis pitched a perfect ninth inning to earn his eighth save of the season.
Derek Niesman (Wellington, Fla.) extended his hitting streak to nine games after going 1-for-4, while fellow senior Andrew Green (Powell, Tenn.) extended his streak of reaching base safely to 16 consecutive outings after recording a single in the eighth. Meanwhile, senior Alex Reynolds (Johnson City, Tenn.) led the Buccaneers with a two-hit game, but as a team, the Bucs left seven runners stranded and went 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position.
Sophomore Jimmy Nesselt (Plantation, Fla.) gave the Blue and Gold six strong innings, but the right-hander suffered the loss (2-2) despite allowing two runs on five hits and striking out three. Junior left-hander Clinton Freeman (Jonesborough, Tenn.) held the Mercer offense scoreless in the final two innings to lower his ERA to 0.57 (2 ER/31.1 IP) in 19 relief appearances on the campaign.
Following the series setback, ETSU dipped to 29-22, 14-10 in A-Sun play, while Mercer moved into sole possession of first-place in the conference standings by improving to 39-14, 17-7. The Bucs moved to fifth in the A-Sun standings as the Blue and Gold are one-game behind Stetson for fourth and two games behind Florida Gulf Coast and North Florida for second.
The Bucs had scoring chances early on as ETSU had runners on second and third with two outs in the second and a runner on third an inning later, but Johnson worked out of both jams to keep the game scoreless.
In the second, Niesman and Reynolds provided two-out hits, but Johnson got Chris Riopedre (Miami, Fla.) out swinging for the fourth strikeout of the game. Then, in the third, Mason Hershey (Altoona, Pa.) led off with an infield single and moved to third on a wild pitch, but with the senior catcher 90-feet away from scoring, Johnson induced Green into an inning-ending fly out to keep the first run of the contest from crossing the dish.
After leaving a runner stranded in scoring position for the second straight inning, the Bears made the Bucs pay for not pushing a run across the plate as Benn led off the bottom of the third with a home run to left-center, giving Mercer a 1-0 lead.
Mercer got another solo homer to start the fourth inning when Backlund sent a 1-0 pitch over the wall in left-center to extend the Bears’ lead to, 2-0. Mercer eventually loaded the bases in the frame, but Nesselt worked out of the jam by striking out Benn and forcing Evan Boyd into an inning-ending pop out to second.
The two runs were more than enough for Mercer to work with as Johnson retired 14 of the final 17 hitters he faced before his day came to an end with two outs in the seventh. Johnson left the mound with Reynolds at third, but David Teasley made the most of his relief appearance by forcing Hershey to hit into an inning-ending pop out to first. From there, Morgan Pittman retired three of the four hitters he faced in the eighth, which led to Kourtis closing the door in the ninth to pick up the series win.
Backlund led the Mercer offense as he reached base three times and had two of the Bears’ seven hits on the afternoon.
The Bucs wrap up the regular season this upcoming weekend as ETSU hosts Jacksonville in a three-game conference series beginning Thursday night. First pitch is set for 7:05 p.m. at Thomas Stadium.
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