For the fourth straight season, the Mercer County baseball program won the 46th District baseball tournament. After capturing the 1-seed in the regular season, and defeating their first-round opponent, the Burgin Bulldogs, the only thing standing between the Titans and their fourth consecutive district title, third straight under Head Coach Cody Christopher, was the Colts of West Jessamine.
West Jessamine came into the championship game off of an impressive win over cross-town rival East Jessamine in the semi-finals. Having split their regular season matchups, the Colts and the Titans were eager to face off in a rubber match for all the marbles. The Colts came into the night with a 19-17 record, while the Titans boasted an overall mark of 24-10. The game was slated for a 6 p.m. start, hosted by the Burgin Bulldogs at their home field. At the time of the first pitch, both teams were excited and ready to play championship level baseball.
The Titans took the field first as the one-seed with home-field advantage. With Mercer County ace, Evan Hart, on the mound the Titans were poised for a good night. However, this quickly looked to be in question when the Colts’ leadoff hitter Nickell roped a double into centerfield to open the game. With everyone in the Titans’ dugout now nervous, sophomore Brayden Campbell silenced the West Jessamine fans just a few seconds later when he fired a ball over to Ayden Stephens at third base to catch Nickell stealing. Now that the momentum was visibly back with the Titans, Hart struck out the current batter, and forced a pop-out for a quick finish to what could have been an ugly first inning.
The Titans quickly took advantage of this momentum shift when a walk and a dropped 3rd strike gave Hart an RBI opportunity with just one out and runners on first and second. Hart helped himself on a 3-2 pitch, by belting a deep ball to left field for an easy sacrifice fly and scored sophomore Andrew Tatum on the play. With that play, the Titans took a 1 run lead. This was all the damage Mercer County was able to do in the first inning and finished the side with a 1-0 lead.
The second inning locked into more of the pitcher’s duel than most expected heading into the game. Both Hart and Peters went 1-2-3 on the mound, instilling confidence in both of their defenses. The lack of offense extended halfway through the third inning until the Titans rolled back over into the top of their order. With one out, Mercer County strung together three back-to-back-to-back singles, putting runners on all of the bases. Then, after a quick strikeout, it looked as though West Jessamine was going to kill the scoring threat. However, freshman Shortstop Carter Devine had other plans.
On the first pitch, Devine smoked a line drive into center-field for a two-RBI single, scoring Stephens and Tatum on the play. After a walk to Jonathan Logdon on the following at-bat, teammate Evann White looked to join in all the fun. On 3-1 count, White saw a pitch outside and smacked it to right field, scoring Will Johnson and Devine. This timely hit put the Titans up 5-0 on the scoreboard, where the score would stay heading into the fourth inning.
After Hart continued his impressive pitching display, shutting down more West Jessamine hitters in the top of the fourth inning; Mercer County continued adding on when it was their turn to hit. A walk to Sheperson, a single by Stephens and a single from Tatum gave Mercer the bases loaded with no outs. The intense energy coming from the Titans’ dugout after this was more than enough to get to the players on the other team, causing West Jessamine’s pitcher to throw a wild pitch, allowing Stephens to score. However, a mound visit settled the pitcher down, as he was able to stunt any further action for the Titans, striking out the next two hitters. The Titans took a 6-0 lead into the fifth.
West Jessamine finally put together some momentum in the fifth inning, when they rallied together a few singles and balls in play to scrap together their first two runs. But two runs were all they could manage before 8th grader Brady Payton recorded the third out of the side on a cleanly fielded ground ball to second base. The fifth inning provided no additional scoring from the Titans, leaving the score at 6-2 heading into the sixth.
Despite being at around 100 pitches, Hart begged head Christopher and Pitching Coach Michael Harley for the ball to start the sixth inning. Trusting the gut of his senior leader, Christopher obliged. Hart did not disappoint, as he took the mound and recorded three quick outs, putting to rest any chance the Colts had at a sixth inning rally.
The Titans ran back to their dugout after the third out, looking to tack on an insurance run to help give comfort to Stephens who took over for Hart to close the game out on the mound. And, they were able to accomplish just that. After a walk and two subsequent outs, Logdon lined a ball to center, and scored Johnson in what was a significant padding to their lead. With a 7-2 lead heading into the last inning, the Titans took the field behind their closer, Stephens.
Stephens wasted no time familiarizing himself with championship-level baseball. The unnerved freshman struck out the very first hitter he saw on a devastating curveball. On just seven more pitches, he recorded two more outs, slamming the door shut on West Jessamine, and cementing a fourth straight district championship for the Titans.
Christopher has now won 25 games and a district championship with all three teams he has had at Mercer County. Despite negative pre-season rankings, and a handful of unfortunate injuries to key contributors; the Mercer County Titans baseball program doesn’t appear to be going anywhere anytime soon.