Nic Mertes already had taken a big hit-by-pitch in the second inning Friday at Lee’s Summit North.
Two innings later, the Blue Springs South catcher had another opportune at-bat for a team that’s been searching nearly two weeks for some decisive, run-scoring hits.
Mertes provided just that on the first offering from North starter Tregg Pohlman, plugging the left-center gap with an opposite-field double that plated two runs and gave the Jaguars a 3-0 lead.
In the sixth, after North had drawn within 3-2, he clubbed an RBI double to center as South went on to post a 5-3 victory to close its Suburban Big Six slate.
“I just went up there looking for something I could drive, something I could hit hard,” Mertes said. “It’s not that every game will be that way – I just had a good game.”
“We played really good defense today and we had (Austin) Simms on the mound, and he did a good job.”
Simms scattered nine hits without a walk and struck out five in 6 1/3 innings, stranding five runners and picking off another. His throwing error put a runner on second to start the seventh, and he gave way to side-arming Conner Davis after Josh DeBacker singled in a run with one out.
Davis induced a fly ball and fielder’s choice grounder to end the game, and South improved to 17-10 overall (6-4 Big Six) heading into a pair of games Saturday in Columbia.
“I was leaving some balls up, but I did what I had to when it mattered and didn’t let it get out of control,” Simms said. “Wins definitely help, but we need to find that spark and find more energy when we play.”
South could’ve had an early spark in the second, when it loaded the bases with one out on three balls that didn’t leave the infield. In between strikeouts by Pohlman, Mertes’ plunking forced in a run. Fortunately for the Jags, Mertes produced bigger damage later.
“Nic got a couple big hits tonight,” South coach Ben Baier said. “It was good to seem him go drive the baseball today.
Baier also lauded the at-bat by leadoff man Jacob Clark after Mertes’ second double. Clark had struck out three times against Pohlman, but against reliever Zach Ours he lifted a fly ball deep enough to center that courtesy runner Trevor Wendleton tagged up and headed to third. Wendleton then trotted home on a wild pitch to make it 5-2.
“It would’ve been easy for him to put his head down,” Baier said of Clark. “He hits the fly ball to center, the guy goes to third and he scores on a wild pitch. He didn’t get the RBI, but Jacob Clark got us the run by doing his job.”
North’s first run came in the third after two-out singles by Dylan Carrender and Dylan Roller with an outfield throwing error tacked on. In the fourth, DeBacker’s second double moved Chase Swisher to third, and he scored on Simms’s wild pitch.
Otherwise, the Broncos (12-14, 1-8) were thwarted by some fine sprinting catches by Patrick Lemberger in left and Braden Younkin in center and lack of clutch hitting against Simms.
“I thought Austin did a great job on the mound,” Baier said. “It’s such a big place to play. You’ve got a lot of room, and you’ve got to have guys who can go get the ball.”
In addition to that lack of clutch hitting, North coach Jeff Diekmann noted his team’s leaky defense, a recurring problem especially when Pohlman has pitched. Outside of Mertes’ two doubles, five of the Jaguars’ other six hits never left the infield, and two other grounders got booted.
“In fairness to Tregg, and we’ve talked with him about it, I don’t know what happens when he’s out there,” Diekmann said. “He struck out seven, and honestly, that’s what kept us in the game. He’s done a nice job all year and his record doesn’t show it.
“We just can’t catch the ball, whether it’s in the air or on the ground, and we’re running out of time (to improve).”