KENNESAW, Ga. – Down late and on the road, the Mercer baseball team never gave up and received a clutch home run by junior Sasha LaGarde and a stellar relief outing by classmate DJ Johnson to pull out a 4-3 extra-inning win over Kennesaw State on Friday evening at Stillwell Stadium.
The game was the Atlantic Sun Conference opener for both squads and the win for Mercer (15-4, 1-0) was its first in an A-Sun opener since 2010.
Despite piling up six hits in the first four innings, the Bears could not break away from the Owls as the game remained scoreless.
Mercer's Brandon Barker and Kennesaw State's Stephen Janas kept the pitcher's duel going until the home team ended the scoreless run in the bottom of the fifth.
An RBI single by sophomore Chris Anderson broke up the shutout and gave Kennesaw State a 1-0 advantage.
The Owls doubled their lead in the bottom of the sixth when freshman Kal Simmons ripped an RBI double to right to make the score 2-0.
For the Bears it was not a matter of getting on base, just a matter of getting a hit in a big moment. Through the first six innings of the game, Mercer left nine runners on base as it struggled to break into the runs column.
All that changed after Janas departed the game at the conclusion of the fifth inning and a pair of Kennesaw State relievers came and went prior to the top of the ninth inning.
Owls closer James Connell started the top of the ninth and allowed an infield single to senior Logan Gaines and a walk to classmate Evan Boyd to bring junior Sasha LaGarde up to the plate. LaGarde, who has two home runs already in 2013, smashed the first pitch he saw in his at-bat and deposited it over the wall in right field to tie the game up at 3-3.
The game remained tied at 3-3 as neither side could light up the scoreboard in the 10th inning.
Mercer pushed the envelope in the top of the 11th, however, loading the bases with one out in the frame. After a strikeout, Derrick Workman was up to bat when a wild pitch uncorked by Kennesaw State reliever Alan Buesnitz allowed Boyd to score and give the Bears their first lead of the day, at 4-3.
Junior DJ Johnson did the rest from that point forward, closing the door on Kennesaw State with a 1-2-3 bottom of the 12th inning to secure the comeback win for the Bears
Barker pitched well for Mercer in a no-decision, allowing two earned runs on eight hits to go along with five strikeouts in 6.1 innings pitched.
Five Bears had multi-hit games, including LaGarde who went 2-for-5 with three RBI and a run scored and Boyd who finished 2-for-4 with two runs scored.
Mercer continues its three-game series with Kennesaw State tomorrow afternoon at 2 p.m. at Stillwell Stadium.