The Mercer baseball team swept a doubleheader against rival Lackawanna College in West Windsor on Saturday, April 27. This was the first meeting between the teams since Lackawanna defeated Mercer in last year’s Region 19 Championship.
In two tight games, the Vikings defeated the team ranked seventh in the nation winning the first game 6-4 and the second game 6-3.
In the four meetings between Mercer and Lackawanna last season, Mercer failed to win a single game, but by winning the only two meetings this season, Mercer secured the top overall seed and a bye for the Region 19 Tournament.
Each game of the doubleheader had innings that swung the momentum in the Vikings direction and in the first game of the series, it was the sixth inning. With Lackawanna batting in the top of the sixth, Mercer was clinging to a 3-2 lead with two outs and runners on first and third. Looking to force the issue, Lackawanna sent the runner from first who was gunned down at second by Mercer Catcher Andrew Immordino to end the threat and preserve the one-run lead.
“We spend a lot of time and energy on controlling the running game and I think throwing out a runner there swung the momentum back in our favor,” said Mercer Head Coach Kevin Kerins.
The caught-stealing out ended Lackawanna’s threat in the top of the inning. Freshmen Mark Tomei led off the bottom of the inning with an infield single.
The next hitter, cleanup man, sophomore Dan Denton turned on an inside fastball and launched it approximately 400 feet, sailing over the trees behind the left field fence for a two-run homerun. Denton’s longball gave the Vikings a 5-2 lead.
Coach Kerins spoke about the significance of Tomei’s infield single, “Mark (Tomei) has been doing a great job for us all year and his single to lead off the sixth set the tone for the inning,” the Mercer skipper said, “his speed and threat of stealing gets Dan (Denton) more fastballs.”
Lackawanna rallied again in the seventh scoring two runs off a couple singles and two wild pitches. Mercer’s freshman closer Joe DiGiovanni would eventually leave a runner stranded on third by striking out Lackawanna outfielder Ian Redetzky looking, to end the game and preserve a 6-4 victory over the Norsemen.
Denton, nicknamed ‘Stache’ for his Rollie Fingers-like mustache, was prepared for the at-bat. “They were throwing me a lot of fastballs, but with two strikes you have to be looking for anything to hit and I got a fastball I was able to turn on,” said Denton.
Tomei and Denton have been standouts all season long. Tomei is leading the team in batting average at .375 and Denton has provided power from the four-spot as the team leader in home runs, with three, and RBIs, with 26 on the season.
In the second game of the doubleheader, the Vikings used small ball and timely hitting to scratch out runs. It began in the bottom of the third on an RBI double by Denton.
After Freshman shortstop Heath Filmeyer singled putting runners at first and third with one out, designated hitter, Sophomore, Darren Heisse executed a perfect hit and run, grounding the ball past the Lackawanna shortstop Luis De’Oleo, who had vacated his position to cover second. Heisse’s hit and run single scored Denton from third to give Mercer a 2-0 advantage.
The Vikings added four more runs in the third inning by beating out infield singles and scoring on wild pitches. Coach Kerins has been preaching fundementals all season. “We have gotten our team to take pride in the little things,” Kerins said, adding, “in big games it’s the things that don’t require talent that help you win”.
Lackawanna rallied in the top of the fourth by loading the bases. Shortstop Luis De’Oleo scorched a ball into left center, but it was speared by Mark Tomei who darted full speed into the gap to track it down. Although one run scored on the sac fly to make the score 6-1, Mercer avoided further damage by not allowing any more runs in the inning.
Mercer held on to a 6-3 victory in the second game to give the Vikings a sweep of the doubleheader and earn a little sense of redemption.
Kerins downplayed the rivalry stating, “the sophomores and the coaching staff let the team know that playing Lackawanna is not ‘just another game’ but this doubleheader had more to it; recruiting and national ranking implications, regional tournament seeding and a bye in the regional tournament were at stake”. The first round bye for the Region 19 tournament will put the Vikings in good position to succeed.
Defeating Lackawanna is sure to have ranked Mercer top 20 in the nation. The Vikings ended the regular season at 32-13 and they now prepare for the Region 19 Championship Tournament at the Del-Tech Owens campus in Delaware. The tournament runs from Friday May 10th-Sunday May 12th.
Although the ball club exacted a measure of revenge on April 27th they know they could see Lackawanna again on May 12.