By Pete Chiodo
Herald Sports Editor
The Region 4-leading Mercyhurst Prep baseball team came up big in the clutch, slugging three doubles with runners in scoring position while amassing an 8-2 win over Titusville, during league action at Art Pearson Field on Monday.
“We’ve been clutch-hitting all year,” said Lakers head coach Randy Durkoske. “We’ve been hitting everything — clutch hitting, regular hitting, two-strike hitting. We’re hitting probably the best we have in team history.”
The numbers would back Durkoske up. Mercyhurst Prep came into yesterday’s game batting .398 as a team, while scoring 10.8 runs per game.
“A lot of these guys have been starting since they were freshmen and all the way up through,” said Durkoske. “We lost a year last year. This year it’s our chance to go deep. That’s basically what it is. We’ve got a lot of experienced players out there.”
Those experienced players have the Lakers off to a 7-1 start to the season, 5-0 in Region 4.
Titusville dropped to 2-4 on the year and 2-2 in the region after another outing in which the Rockets hung with a tough opponent before ultimately coming up short.
“Here’s the best part: We have the ability to get better,” said Titusville head coach Roy Schweitzer. “We are talented. And we have the players to be there. It’s just a matter of getting it all together.
“It’s growing pains, is the best way to put it. We’ve got a nice mix of seniors and juniors. We’re right there. The program is coming around. Those guys right there (Mercyhurst Prep) are a very good team. And when you have opportunities against a team like that and you don’t capitalize on them, this is what happens.”
The Rockets hung with the Lakers thanks to an effective start by sophomore lefty Hunter Thomas.
Thomas got into a little trouble in the first inning when lead-off batter Zack Danias doubled, and Joey Colon took a low breaking ball on the ankle.
However, the Titusville defense bailed Thomas out, when shortstop Tyler Durstine fielded a grounder and initiated a double play through second baseman Garrett Knapp and on to Mike Canter at first. Thomas then got the next batter swinging to end the inning.
Mercyhurst wouldn’t be kept off the scoreboard for much longer, though.
The Lakers loaded up the bags in the third inning. And Mike Nelligan hit the first of Mercyhurst’s clutch two-baggers when he swatted a Thomas offering to the fence in left.
Two runs scored. Mercyhurst tried to make it three, but the Lakers’ Hayden Zaffino hesitated down the third base line and was tagged out by Kasen Neely at the plate.
Mercyhurst then added a third run in the fourth inning. Once again, the Lakers loaded the bags. Luke Manendo came home to score on a wild pitch. But Thomas ended things there, striking out the next two batters.
Titusville got a run back in the bottom of the fourth.
Mercyhurst starter Conor Fitzgerald had a no-hitter going through three innings. Knapp ended it with a lead-off line drive to left. Two outs later, Durstine hit Knapp in from third with a single to center. Then Kolin Baker punched another single through the right side of the infield. But Titusville couldn’t do any more damage during the frame.
Titusville had another scoring opportunity in the fifth inning when Derek Beach and Knapp walked with two outs. Both runners moved into scoring positions on wild pitches. But Fitzgerald caught the next batter looking to get out of the jam.
“We had opportunities,” said Schweitzer. “We had runners on second and third with two outs. And if we come through there we tie it up 3-3.
“After that inning, after we didn’t get those runs in, the wind went out of our sails a little bit.”
In the top of the sixth, Mercyhurst gained more ground on the Rockets, bringing across four runs to make it 7-1. With the bases loaded and one out, Danias hit his second double of the day, this one
rolling up the third-base line. It scored two runs. Then Colon followed with a double to right, which scored two more.
The Lakers then put their final run on the board in the seventh, as Nathan Lazan reached on an error and Fitzgerald plated him with a single up the middle.
Titusville got a little rally going in the bottom of the seventh when Andrew Wheeling led off with a walk and Knapp plated him with a single to shallow center. That was all the Rockets could muster, however.
The win went to Fitzgerald, who allowed one run on three hits over five innings. He walked four and struck out five.
Thomas took the loss for Titusville, allowing three runs on five hits with three walks and eight strikeouts in five innings.