When Grant Merk gets it rolling, he refuses to waste time.
“Usually when I get into a rhythm, I get going pretty fast,’’ the Thomas Jefferson junior said. “I just like to keep going, because it doesn’t give the batter time to think.’’
After T.J. dropped the first game of the Missouri River Conference doubleheader to Abraham Lincoln 11-5, Merk made sure the Yellow Jackets weren’t swept. He fired a two-hit, 75-pitch, complete-game shutout, striking out four and walking two in a 77-minute gem as T.J. rebounded for a 2-0 victory Monday at Jon Lieber Field to gain the split.
“He’s a competitor,’’ T.J. coach Tom Giles said. “He’s our best. He throws strikes. He holds runners. We’re always going to be in the ballgame when Grant’s pitching.’’
T.J. ended the day 6-15 overall and 5-13 in the MRC, while the Lynx are 7-14 and 5-8.
In the nightcap, A.L. junior Austin Wickman matched Merk pitch for pitch for most of the game in his first varsity start. A bicep injury has kept Wickman from having a bigger role on the staff in recent weeks, but he recorded the last two outs of the opener in relief, both on strikeouts.
“He looked good and said it felt good, so I said, ‘Well, do you want to roll with it the second game?’ and he said, ‘Yeah,’’’ A.L. coach Brett Elam said. “He stepped up in a huge way for us. He pitched great.’’
T.J. broke through in the sixth inning, Ryan Steinspring walked, stole second and took third on a groundout. With Merk at the plate, Giles called for a suicide squeeze. Steinspring got a great jump, and when the pitch was way high and outside, he scored without sliding.
Merk added an insurance run later in the inning when he singled and scored on Tucker Rowe’s ground ball.
That was all Merk needed. He said he was more effective with his curveball.
“I’m letting my curveball go late and drop in for strikes. And keeping everything low,’’ he said. “It felt good just shutting everything down and doing what I wanted to do and envisioned myself doing.’’
It was the fourth straight doubleheader in which T.J. dropped the opener but rebounded for the split.
“We’re capable of much more,’’ Giles said.
In the opener, the Lynx broke open a 5-5 game with a six-run sixth inning. Ben Fichter had a two-run triple in the frame, and Hunter Nice, Tyler Reiss and Johnny Podraza added RBIs.
Andrew Christensen was 3-for-5 in the opener for A.L., while Reiss, Fichter and Podraza added two hits apiece.
Steinspring homered in the opener, but then collided with Robert Wood on a third-inning fly ball in short left field and was woozy for a time.
“It just felt like I hit a dump truck,’’ he said. “I just stopped. It was crazy.’’ After a short time on the bench, Steinspring re-entered and finished the twin bill.
A.L.’s six-team, Class 4-A substate was released last week, and it would be a five seed if the season ended now. Elam said this is the time for the Lynx to make a move.
“Are we going to be complacent and be content with the five seed?’’ he said. “Or do we want to put a little run together and try to make a jump at a four or three seed?’’
Thomas Jefferson 011 003 0 – 5 5 4
Abraham Lincoln 131 006 x – 11 14 2
W: Tyler Rardin. L: Robert Wood. 2B: AL, Kobie Ferguson. 3B: AL, Ben Fichter. HR: TJ, Ryan Steinspring (2).
Thomas Jefferson (6-15, 5-13) 000 002 0 – 2 4 1
Abraham Lincoln (7-14, 5-8) 000 000 0 – 0 2 1
W: Grant Merk. L: Austin Wickman. 3B: AL, Tyler Reiss.