Deemed as the Atlantic Sun Series of the Week, the Kennesaw State Owls (21-14, 13-4) came into Macon to face Mercer as the hottest in the conference. The Owls haven’t exactly been a surprising team. Picked to finish first in the preseason A-Sun polls, Kennesaw has a more than able batting lineup and more importantly, strong and dominating pitchers.
Coming off two midweek wins over Florida A&M, Mercer looked to pull their record back up above the .500 mark against Kennesaw State, but were in turn swept in the three game series. The Bears (15-18, 7-11) battled in two of the three games, even sending one to extra innings, but ultimately their efforts came up short.
On Friday night, A-Sun Preseason Pitcher of the Year Kennesaw’s Kyle Heckathorn (4-1) almost threw a complete game in route to a narrow 7-3 win over Mercer. Striking out eight batters in 7.2 innings, Heckathorn would allow only four hits while giving up three runs on the night.
“[Heckathorn] was up to the challenge,” said Mercer head coach Craig Gibson after the series. “He is a frontline guy and will be a high draft choice, yet we still had a chance,” he added.
Heckathorn wasn’t perfect in the opening game, but the Owl’s offense gave him plenty of support on their way to the four run victory. On the other side, Mercer’s Lath Guyer (1-3) pitched only five innings while striking out nine. Guyer would give up ten hits and four crucial runs in the fourth inning.
Defensive miscues on bunt-singles allowed the Owls to grab an early lead before Mercer’s rally in the sixth inning. The Bear’s Thomas Carroll scored two runners with a single followed by another RBI-base hit by Steve Karwatt, but otherwise Mercer was held silent from the plate for a majority of the night.
KSU’s top three batters in the lineup, Jacob Robbins, Tyler Stubblefield, and Ric Bishop would account for nine of the team’s fifteen hits in game one.
If the handful of MLB scouts in the stands thought Heckathorn looked good Friday night, junior Chad Jenkins (5-1), another potential draft pick looked even better Saturday afternoon. Kennesaw State looked dominate on the field in the early game of the doubleheader, winning 9-0.
Allowing just four hits in the complete game and none in the final six innings, Jenkins finished the game throwing only 92 pitches. Offensively, catcher Jace Whitmer crushed two homeruns and four RBI in a 3-for-5 effort to propel the Owls to the win.
Tyler Stubblefield would also homer in the sixth inning while going 2-for-3 from the plate. Notably, Mercer’s Dan April (2-4) would suffer the loss after working the first 5.2 innings of the game.
The second game of the doubleheader and the third of the series was the most exciting game of the weekend. It was a game Mercer should have won, but the Owl’s late game heroics made the difference in the 11-6 extra innings victory.
The Bear’s starting pitcher, Justice French, put the team in a good position to win by throwing well into the eighth inning. French would give up five runs while striking out four but more importantly, his teammates gave him support from the plate.
Mercer scored early amassing six runs by the fifth inning on a two run homer by right fielder Thomas Carroll and by a Karwatt run following a wild pitch, but the Owls kept the game close. The score remained 6-4 until the eighth frame when Ric Bishop’s single scored a run. With little breathing room, Mercer reliever J.T. Odom gave up a game-tying solo home run to the Owl’s Drew Folkes in the top of the ninth inning.
Kennesaw State wasted little time in the 10th inning putting the game out of reach 11-6. It was a tough loss for the Bears in a game that was all but completed. Now, Mercer hopes to bounce back against A-Sun foes North Florida, Jacksonville, and Belmont in late April and early May before the Atlantic Sun Tournament starts May 20 in DeLand, Florida.