One thousand, one hundred and twenty-six days or three years and one month.
That is how long it had been since USC Upstate finished on the winning-end of a game with Mercer. The Spartans had dropped 12-straight games to the Bears since April 24, 2010 when Upstate won the opening game of a Saturday doubleheader, 5-2.
With a 5-2 loss in game two, the losing streak began and lasted three seasons including three conference series sweeps; two of which came at home. Adding to the Spartans’ futility vs. Mercer were two A-Sun Championship losses with one in Upstate’s postseason debut last year (11-2) as well as this year’s opening contest (12-6).
Head Coach Matt Fincher and the Spartans had a few chances to snap the streak including an 14-inning game last season, which ended with a DJ Johnson walk-off hit for a 7-6 Bears’ victory. On two other occasions the Spartans fell by only two runs.
In order to get off the schneid, USC Upstate needed to defeat the Bears’ best team over the past four seasons as Mercer won the A-Sun Regular-Season title, set a program record for wins and claimed the No. 1 seed in the conference championship.
Entering an elimination game on Friday against their dominant nemesis, the Spartans clearly were ready to turn the tide.
Five runs went on Melching Field’s scoreboard in the top half of the second inning for Upstate punctuated by Tyler Lesch’s two-RBI single following RBI’s by upper classmen Trey Richardson, Jordan Stampler and Brody Greer.
Three innings later, the Spartans piled on the Bears with three additional runs as Richardson contributed two more RBI’s to Upstate’s cause, pushing the lead to 8-0.
However, the offense wasn’t the only thing clicking for the Spartans as utility player Gaither Bumgardner, the 2012 A-Sun Player of the Year, took the mound with force, striking out eight batters through the first 7.1 innings with only six hits allowed to hold the Bears scoreless until the eighth inning.
“Mercer has had their way with us in the past, but tonight we came out strong and Gaither pitched a great game for us,” said Fincher of tonight’s game.
Bumgardner finished with nine strikeouts and only eight hits allowed in eight innings before Chad Sobotka, Upstate’s closer, wrapped up the game as the final tally read; USC Upstate 9, Mercer 1.
“They are such a great team and have been such a good program in my career,” Bumgardner mentioned of his Friday foe. “We have a lot of respect for those guys and it feels great to finally beat them.”
With the Bears’ dominance now in the past, the Spartans set their sights on the future in the conference championship against ETSU. The Spartans stand on firmer ground against the Buccaneers as Fincher and Upstate have won four of the last six vs. the Bucs.
Fincher added, “I don’t know if we can get two wins vs. ETSU tomorrow but we are certainly going to go out there are try.”