Mercer Swept In Season Finale at Kennesaw State
MACON, Ga. – Unfortunately for the Mercer softball team, the sting of a 13-game losing streak remains the lasting image of the 2012 season, as the Bears were swept in the season finale by in-state rival Kennesaw State on Saturday afternoon.
The Bears were downed in game one 9-1 in five innings, before dropping game two, 7-3. Mercer finishes the season 24-28 and 5-13 in Atlantic Sun Conference play in head coach James DeFeo's first year in Macon. With the wins, Kennesaw St. puts itself in good position to claim the top seed in the upcoming A-Sun Tournament and finishes the season 30-22 and 13-4 in the league.
The Bears, on the other hand, will miss the A-Sun Tournament for the just the second time in seven seasons. After getting out to such a promising 5-2 record in conference, things started to go south after freshman pitcher Jessica Holsinger went down with a foot injury after the series against North Florida. From there the pitching staff was unable to respond and deteriorated down the stretch.
In the 39 games before the start of the losing streak, the Bears pitching staff had allowed just 18 home runs and gave up an average of 3.8 runs per game. Over the 13-game losses, Mercer pitchers gave up an equal 18 home runs (including five against the Owls on Saturday) and almost doubled the amount of runs per game on average, 6.07.
Senior Kassie Bailey received the start in game one and looked to snap her own streak, having lost her last eight outings inside the circle. However, KSU's Lindsey Vollmer had other plans and took a full count pitch down the right field line to clear the bases and give the Owls the 3-0 lead at the end of one.
The Owls extended their lead in the second to 5-0 before the Bears could record their first hit in the game. KSU's Jessica Cross roped an RBI double and Bianca Durant hit a sacrifice fly to right accounting for the two runs in the second.
Freshman Molly Garmany broke up Owls starting pitcher Abbey Mixon's no-hitter bid in the top of the fourth when she laced a two-out double to right center. However, the shutout still remained and Kennesaw St. added to its lead in its half of the fourth.
After recording the first out in the fourth, Bailey gave up the second home run of the game to Jessica Cross – a two-run home run – to make the score 7-0. DeFeo made a move to the bullpen to relieve Bailey after she allowed the seven earned in three and a third innings pitched.
Things didn't improve as the Bears gave up two more runs in the fourth to fall behind 9-0 and the potential for the run rule loomed heavy. Mercer showed a little grit in the top of the fifth however as Kassie Bailey was able to tally the final RBI of her career at Mercer off a single to right which the speedy McKenzie Woody from second.
The one run would be all the Bears could muster as Kennesaw St. held on for the run-rule victory after five.
Woody added hits in both games to finish with a .430 batting average on the year to lead all players in the A-Sun. Her 74 hits this season will go down as the most ever in a single season in Mercer history.
The Bears allowed six runs in the bottom of the sixth to give up a late-inning lead in game two to fall by a score of 7-3.
Junior Kerri Nidiffer came in to start game two and did a good job allowing just one hit through the first three innings. A solo home run in the bottom of the fourth by Kaylee Williams gave the Owls the lead, but Nidiffer limited the damage and got out of the inning allowing just the one run.
Senior Sara Stukes, playing in her final game of her career, led off the top of the fifth for the Bears and tied the game up at one with her team-leading seventh home run of the season. Stukes' solo home run was a towering shot to right that hit off the top of the KSU scoreboard.
Nidiffer got the Owls to go down in order in the fifth, leaving the door open for the Bears to take their first lead of the day. Senior Kristin Marko led off the top of the sixth with a single and was then moved into scoring position off a sacrifice bunt laid down by Bailey.
Things would change rather quickly in the bottom of the inning however as the Owls exploded for six runs off five hits.
Williams opened up the scoring by hitting her second home run of the game to lead off the inning. Back-to-back singles set up a two-run RBI double off the bat of Jensen Hackett to reclaim the lead for the Owls at 4-2.
Junior Molly Anderson came in to try and stop the hemorrhaging and get the final out of the inning. However, she too was tagged for a home run – a three-run blast by Bianca Durant which gave the Owls the healthy five-run advantage.
A Kristin Marko recorded an RBI single in the top of the seventh in her final at bat as Bear to bring Mercer within four at 7-3. That would however be as close as the Bears would get as KSU walked away with the sweep.