Prep Baseball: Mercer believes pitching staff will be deeper this year
J.T. Long is one of several pitchers who could give Mercer County more pitching depth than it had last season, when the Titans reached the state championship game. (Mike Marsee / March 27, 2012)
The end of Mercer County’s best baseball season was marked by one of its worst defeats, a 21-2 loss to Central Hardin in last year’s state championship game. And John Banks and J.T. Long were caught in the middle of the storm.
The two pitchers took a beating in the title game, giving up a combined 14 runs in the most lopsided title game on record.
They were in that unfortunate position because, as many said at the time, the Titans simply “ran out of pitching,” with the pitchers who had made up their postseason rotation to that point having used up their alloted innings.
And now they’re in the position of making sure that never happens again.
Mercer has the makings of a much deeper pitching staff than a year ago, and Banks and Long are part of that equation.
“We’ve got a lot more pitching than we did last year,” Long said.
Last year’s Titans had two pitchers at the top of the rotation, Clay Cinnamon and Matthew Honchel, who were on the mound in their biggest games and who have gone on to play for Miami (Ohio). And while there’s no one at the top of this year’s staff who can yet pitch like them, there might well be more people on the team who are or can become capable pitchers.
“We’ve got a lot of good arms ready to throw,” Banks said.
Banks is among a stable of starters that also includes junior John Ingram, senior Brendan Robinson and sophomore transfer Jackson Stoeckinger, while Long has worked in relief along with Seth Heath.
“We do have a lot of depth, not just in our pitching staff but position-wise too,” Mercer coach Jeremy Shope said.
Both Long and Banks took their lumps in the state finals. Long started the game and gave up seven runs on six hits in just 1 2/3 innings, though none of the runs were earned. Banks followed and gave up another seven runs — four of them earned on another six hits in 1 2/3 innings.
“Those young guys were thrown into the fire against the state’s best-hitting ballclub, but that’s only going to make them better,” Shope said.
Both pitchers admitted, however, that they’re still smarting a bit from that game.
“It did hurt, but the thing I liked about our team is we never quit,” Long said.
It hurt Banks even more. Few knew at the time that he had suffered a dislocated shoulder earlier in the season — he operated on the basis of a false MRI for three months.
“It was probably the most painful thing I’ve ever went through in my life,” he said. “But the doctor said if you get a chance to pitch (in the state tournament), you should do it because you might never get another chance in your life.”
There may not be many people outside the Mercer dugout who think the Titans will get another chance like they had last season, but they don’t believe that for a second.
“People think we’re not going to do as well because we lost those guys from last year, but we’re not going to have that attitude,” Long said.
There probably aren’t many people outside the Mercer dugout who think the Titans can duplicate their success of last season, but they said they are aiming for nothing less — and perhaps one thing more.
“The same as last year, our goal is to go to state again,” Banks said.
“I’m glad we got there. I got a memory that I can keep for the rest of my life, but it’s not good enough,” Long added. “We have the same goal every year: We want a state championship and nothing less.”