Reflections on a run
It all happened so fast.
One minute you’re watching a pretty good Mercer County team on a pretty good roll playing in the first round of the state baseball tournament, and a couple of minutes later you look up and the Titans are in the championship game. And if their four state tournament games seemed to go by in a blur from my perspective at the top of Whitaker Bank Ballpark, imagine how quickly they went for the players.
No, it didn’t end well for Mercer. In fact, it ended with a historically lopsided loss to Central Hardin in the title game Saturday night. That’s gotta sting, but the pain eventually has to be masked by a feeling of tremendous accomplishment that the Titans rightfully earned.
Theirs was a remarkable achievement, given the fact that no previous Advocate-area team had gotten past the round of eight and that no 12th Region team had played in the state finals since 1981. It’s also remarkable when you consider the random nature of single-elimination baseball, which is far more unpredictable than its equivalents in football and basketball.
The other impressive part of the story was how quickly this Mercer team caught the attention of the county’s sports fans. Mercer fans made strong showings at all four rounds of the state tournament, contributing the lion’s share of a championship game-record crowd of 5,079 on Saturday. Theirs is a community that loves a winner as much as everybody else and loves baseball a little more than most, and that makes an old baseball fan like me smile.
I found myself smiling quite a bit last week as I watched Mercer move ever deeper into the bracket. I was smiling every time I talked to coach Jeremy Shope, a good coach and a good man who was bothered by his teams’ past shortcomings a little more than he let on and who was as appreciative as any coach I can remember of a trip to the state tournament. I was smiling as I saw things fall perfectly into place for the Titans time after time, from a good draw to a strong pitching performance to a well-place home run. I was smiling Friday night as I saw players stampeding out of the dugout to celebrate their comeback win over Pleasure Ridge Park — even as I had a camera trained on them to capture their reaction in defeat. And I was smiling Saturday as I heard Shope talk to his team after its 21-2 loss.
I’m sure they’re smiling by now as well, and they probably will be every time they think about what happened over the past four weeks. They may not have earned the champions’ trophy, but they certainly earned that.