On Monday, May 1, the Mercer County Titans took on the Yellow Jackets of Woodford County in a must-watch re-match between two high-level programs. Having lost a home game to the Titans earlier in the season, Woodford was out to exact revenge while Mercer County was looking to jump back into the win column, having lost a poorly played game to Henry Clay in their last outing.
The Yellow Jackets struck first, reaching on an error and scoring on a subsequent error in the top of the first inning. Despite a lead-off walk earned by freshman starting pitcher Ayden Stephens, the Titans were unable to mount any rebuttal in the bottom half of the inning, allowing the Yellow Jackets to take a 1-0 lead going into the second inning.
The next inning was quick and easy. Pitchers for both teams settled into their grove, retiring the next six hitters who came to the plate. It wasn’t until the top half of the third inning that more excitement was generated. Woodford reached on error to start their offensive attack, followed quickly by a bunt single. Despite a much-needed strikeout delivered by Stephens for the Titans, Woodford was able to notch two stolen bases and a hit-by-pitch, resulting in runners on all three bases for the Yellow Jackets with just one out. Stephens gave his best effort to get the Titans out of the inning with no real damage being done, but it was too late. Due to previous errors, a weak ground ball resulted in a force out at second base and was just enough to drive across another run, expanding the Woodford County lead to 2-0.
This is where the score would stay throughout what ended up being, a very strong pitcher’s duel. It wasn’t until Woodford’s starting pitcher, Dycus, exited the game, that the Titans were able to spark some life into their bats. Following his departure in the top of the sixth, the Titans quickly mounted two base runners (single by Will Johnson, ROE by Evan Hart). This attempt at a late-game rally was stymied, however, as the Yellow Jackets bullpen eventually found itself and delivered three consecutive outs. After a very quick top half of the seventh inning, cementing a complete game for Stephens, the Titans were unable to build on this momentum going into their last at-bat. Mercer County was put away one-two-three, sealing the revenge victory for the visiting Yellow Jackets.
In a game where nothing seemed to break for the Titans, there were some bright spots. Rarely ever do you see a high school pitcher have the physical and mental composure to pitch an entire seven-inning complete game, and Mercer County received just that out of a freshman in Stephens. He finished the day allowing zero earned runs, recorded seven strikeouts, and only took 90 total pitches to get through seven innings of work. This is the type of performance most teams hope to get out of a seasoned veteran on their staff, and the Titans got it from a player who doesn’t have his driver’s permit yet.
The Titans take on Garrard County at home on Friday, May 5.