After having their final week of games washed away by rain the Vikings finished the 2014 regular season ranked No. 3 in the final national polls for Div.II with a 33-6 record, the best in school history.
Mercer will begin their playoff run as the top seed in the Region 19 Tournament with two games on Friday in Georgetown, Delaware.
In the first game Mercer takes on 4th seeded tournament host Delaware-Tech Owens (23-18) at 10 am. The matchup comes three weeks after Mercer took both games of a doubleheader from Del-Tech, winning 3-2 and 5-2 respectively with Heath Fillmyer and Ben Stine getting the wins.
Fillmyer will start one of the two games Friday in what will be his first outing since April 23 when the right-hander surrendered the only two earned runs he allowed this season putting his earned run average at 0.42 for 2014 over 43 innings with a staggering 66 strikeouts.
The sophomore captain, and criminal justice major, finished second in the nation in earned run average to UCONN-Avery Point’s Baylor LaPointe who’s 0.26 earned run average came in eight fewer innings pitched.
According to Head Coach Kevin Kerins Ben Stine and Fillmyer will start Friday, but the order in which they will pitch is yet to be determined.
Stine gutted through six innings in his last start of the year in a loss to Lackawanna in which he gave up five earned runs on nine hits including two home runs, but preserved arms for the rest of the staff heading into the postseason.
The start was not representative of Stine’s season statistically however as he finished the year with a 2.30 earned run average in 54.2 innings pitched with 46 strikeouts.
The second game for Mercer Friday will be played against either no. 3 seed Morris (24-13) or noo. 2 seed Lackawanna (26-14) depending on the outcome of the opening games. The Vikings swept a doubleheader from Morris on April 6, outscoring the Titans 12-1 in the only games played between the two teams this season.
The Vikings also split a doubleheader against Lackawanna April 26 in what turned out to be the ball club’s final two regular season games. Their victory in Game 2 clinched the number one overall seed in the Region 19 Tournament.
Freshman outfielder Eddie Ashley told The VOICE, “our goal the whole year was to get home field advantage and we got it with that win, it was a big win for us.”
The region tournament is the first hurdle the Vikings need cleared in order to make it to the JUCO World Series held in Enid, Oklahoma, May 24-29. Capturing the top seed in the region makes Mercer the home team for the entire region tournament, which guarantees them the last at bat in each game.
If Mercer is fortunate enough to make it through the regions they will host the the Region 20 champion in the Super Regional Tournament games on the West Windsor Campus. Mercer posted a 15-2 home record in 2014 which could improve their chances of defeating the region 20 champ to get to Enid.
Kevin Kerins spoke of the importance of the No. 1 seed, “I think being home team throughout the playoffs is huge, but more importantly we get the bye…we have some guys banged up so we will take the time to regroup and get ready.”
If the Vikes are able to make it to Enid they will do so without their most productive offensive player in freshman catcher Dave Osnato. Osnato hit .434 this year with 6 home runs and 32 runs batted in, leading his team in all three categories and ranking in the top 20 nationally in batting average (19th) and a .681 slugging percentage (16th). The freshman was also selected to the NJCAA national team set to compete in the National Baseball Congress World Series in July.
Osnato suffered a broken right middle finger after being hit by a pitch in the loss to Lackawanna. The break required surgery for Osnato on Wednesday where, according to the criminal justice major, two pins were placed in the finger to stabilize it, but he is unsure of his status for the postseason.
The former Hamilton West Hornet is not counting out the possibility of playing should the Vikings make it to Oklahoma though, “If I had to tell you right now if I would be healthy enough to play I would like to say yes…I don’t think it’s set in stone, I’ll do everything I can to get ready, but I can’t say for sure.”
Catching in his stead will be freshman Greg Santora who relieved Osnato against Lackawanna displaying his skills defensively by throwing out a runner to cut down a Falcons rally.
Coach Kerins said of Santora, “Greg did a great job coming in for Dave, he’s not intimidated and handles the pitching staff well,” Kerins said, adding, “Greg’s our guy for the rest of the season until we get Dave back.”
Osnato echoed Kerins sentiments, “Greg is a great teammate and I have all the confidence in the world in him, “ the injured catcher said, adding, “its his time to shine.”
The Vikings will need Santora to maintain his play defensively if they want to reach their goal of winning the first National Championship in the program’s history.
The team’s skipper has confidence in his team making a run into late May, “I think our guys can play with anybody in the country,” Kerins said.