Mercer's Bill Knight only needed two steps from home plate before he clapped his hands in celebration in front of the roaring crowd at OrthoGeorgia Park. The Florida State team in the field reacted with him, hanging their heads and beginning their trek to the showers as the Mercer squad exploded out of the dugout.
With one swing of the bat, Knight may have put this Bears team decidedly on college baseball's radar for the 2022 season. As the ball landed in center field, the game-winning run crossed the plate and Mercer defeated the #10 FSU Seminoles by a score of 6-5 in 11 thrilling innings. The win marked coach Craig Gibson's first against FSU in 27 games against the school.
"What a great game, you can't say enough about the overall team win," Gibson told Mercer Athletics after the game. "Great chemistry, great fight."
The walk-off hit from Knight came with the bases loaded and was the dagger to finish of a four-run comeback by the Bears after being down 5-1 as late as the fifth inning. The comeback started small, as Mercer scored on a passed ball in the bottom of the fifth and again with a solo homer by Trevor Austin. Mercer was within two by the time the bottom of the ninth rolled around, but Jozsef Rohrbacher knocked an RBI single before the Bears tied it up off of an FSU error.
Luke Sutko guided Mercer into extra innings, pitching 2.2 stellar innings and allowing just one hit on the bump. In the bottom of the 11th, the Bears capitalized on FSU stranding the go-ahead run in the top of the frame by loading the bases. With one out, Knight stepped into the box with the bags juiced, and the rest was history.
The win was Mercer's eighth in their first nine games in the season. Since Feb. 18th, the Bears have swept Eastern Kentucky University and Florida A&M and won their series with Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. The team's lone loss came Sunday against SIUE.
The Bears won both of its games against Eastern Kentucky by scores of 8-1 and 15-2 to open the season. The third and final game of the series saw the team allow Eastern Kentucky to come back from a 5-0 deficit, but Le Basset hit a home run in the eighth inning to restore Mercer’s lead and eventually give them the win and a 3-0 start.
The Bears followed up these victories with two beatdowns of their next opponents, Florida A&M University. After a 15-3 victory Feb. 22, the team went one better the following day, winning by a score of 15-2. The victory included home runs from numerous players, including Rohrbacher, Knight, Treyson Hughes and Colby Thomas.
After five straight wins, Mercer was rolling and one of few undefeated teams remaining in the country. This form continued into last weekend’s series, where the squad faced Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. The series began on Friday, with the Bears emerging victorious 5-2.
On Saturday, the Bears won once again; this time by a score of 10-6. Despite falling 5-0 behind after two innings, home runs from the likes of David Burke, Collin Price and Bassett once again helped the team to claw their way back into a tie game.
However, the unbeaten start to the season came to an end on Sunday, as the Bears were defeated by SIUE 3-5. Despite a strong first four innings, where the team outscored SIUE 3-2, they were scoreless in all other innings, handing the squad their first loss of the season.
The loss did little to slow Mercer's momentum, however, as the upset of FSU came next. With their record at 8-1, the Bears now hold the best record in the Southern Conference and have likely put themselves in position for national recognition and a strong season.
Mercer starts its next series Friday against UNC Asheville at home, then plays another crucial home game March 9 against powerhouse Georgia Tech.
Micah Johnston ‘22 is a journalism and media studies double major who has written for The Cluster since his freshman year at Mercer. He has written on and reported for Georgia Public Broadcasting, The Macon Telegraph and The Macon Newsroom on a variety of topics. He received the Center for Collaborative Journalism’s Junior Honors Award for the 2020-2021 academic year. Micah’s other interests include obsessively following Braves and Mariners baseball, constantly listening to all kinds of music and probably eating junk food.