Almost from the start of Thursday's Atlantic Sun Championship between Mercer and Jacksonville, Bear starter Justice French found himself pitching out of the stretch position. Any one mistake could have opened the offensive floodgates for the Dolphins and put the Bears in an early deficit. However, he made the necessary pitches to wriggle out of multiples to pitch the Bears to a 2-1 victory.
In his 6.1 innings of work, 12 Jacksonville hitters reached base. Only one of those runners came in to score and that came when Adam Brett Walker did the work himself, homering in the fourth inning. He stranded runners in every inning except the third and on three occasions, he stranded multiple runners.
In the first inning, with Dolphins at first and second, he struck out Kevin Lehane. An inning later, the Dolphins put a runner at third with two away but induced a ground out by Esterlin Perozo. He threw a perfect third inning but in both the fourth and fifth inning he managed to get out of bases loaded jams. The fourth inning started with the Walker home run but concluded with a fly out by Taylor Ratliff only after three reached base.
"I was able to get those 'high-energy' pitches early in the game and I was able to get in a rhythm a little bit," French said. "They're a good hitting team and they're going to get hits, but I was able to limit the damage and that's what you need to do to win games."
In the fifth, he retired the first two batters of the frame but for a third straight at bat could not retire Walker as he singled to right. Lehane singled in front of Jimmy Howick. Howick beat out an infield hit to second base but crumbled to the Dugan Field grass in immense pain. While trainers tended to Howick, French used the time to stay warm and focus in on Colin Monagle, a pinch hitter. Monagle fouled out and in the following inning, the Bear offense rewarded French's efforts by scratching across a pair of runs, the only two runs needed in the 2-1 win.
"I thought that [the injury delay] was a big moment because [prior to it] they had strung together a couple of hits and I thought it kind of slowed down their momentum," French said. "I felt like I had to take advantage of [the moment] and I wanted to get the next guy and was able to do it."
For French, in-game adversity on the mound pails in comparison to some of the real-life challenges he has already beaten. In a story featured in the Atlantic Journal Constitution and on NCAA.com, French was diagnosed with melanoma last summer but through surgeries he has returned to full strength.
"He's a warrior and a competitor and he's fought hard," Mercer head coach Craig Gibson said. "He's always given us this type of outing most of the year...and that's what we needed from a great senior leader. He gave us his best game of the year at the best time."