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Merced ace pitches two-hitter in victory over Lincoln

STOCKTON — Mike Nelson made it clear he wanted the ball.

The Merced ace was already thinking about taking the mound against Lincoln just a few hours after finishing up his first playoff win against West last week.

"I was pretty determined to pitch this game," Nelson said. "I wanted it. In my head I knew I was going to do everything I could to get ready to pitch again. I started icing and running."

He didn't have to do much to convince Merced coach Lou Souza. The Bears skipper gave his ace the ball on just three days rest and Nelson delivered one of his best performances of the year.

The left-hander struck out seven on his way to a two-hitter as the Bears edged Lincoln of Stockton 2-1 in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I playoffs on Monday night at University of the Pacific's Klein Family Field.

"I talked to him yesterday and met with him at lunch (Monday) and told him if he can go, if he feels good, let's do it," Souza said. "If he felt he could only give us two or three innings we could go with Andrew (Jaurique). When we got to the park he said he felt good, so he made my job easy."

Nelson improved to 9-2 as pitched his second complete game of the playoffs, showing the Southern half of the section why he was the Central California Conference MVP.

His curveball was a weapon as Lincoln barely touched it all night.

He hit Andrew Truax with the first pitch of the game and then retired 14 of the next 15 hitters.

"He did a good job of moving his pitches in and out," Lincoln coach Everett Ray said. "He'd get us leaning and then bust us with a fastball in. He worked ahead in the count. We're a much better hitting club than we showed tonight, so I think you got to tip your hat to him."

Merced (19-11) got offensive production from an unlikely source in No. 9 hitter Isaac Haggerty. The junior came into the game with just an .079 batting average in 38 at-bats this season. However, he lined a single to center to score Chad May with two outs in the bottom of the second inning to give the Bears a 1-0 lead.

"Man, this year has been really saddening," Haggerty said. "It's been frustrating for me. I even sat four games, but I just kept working. I waited for my pitch and didn't try to do too much with it."

Haggerty did try to do too much as a baserunner when he tried to score from third on an errant throw, but he was thrown out at the plate to end the second inning.

"Coach Souza gave me the stop sign and I should have choked it off after I stopped and went back to the bag," Haggerty said. "It was just a gamble that didn't pay off."

The Bears scored an important insurance run in the fifth inning when Garret Boothe hit a sacrifice fly to left to score Jaurique to extend the lead to 2-0.

The Trojans (18-8) scored their lone run of the game in the sixth inning when Myles Kiefer scored on a squeeze bunt off the bat of Damien Arteago. Nelson then got Daniel Perez to fly out to center to keep the tying run stranded at second base.

Brett Sullivan hit a one-out single in the top of the seventh, but was thrown out by Merced catcher Phillip Parga trying to steal.

The Bears now face St. Mary's, which defeated Turlock 6-0 on Monday, in a winner's bracket game on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Klein Family Field. Lincoln faces Turlock in an elimination game on Wednesday at 4 p.m.

Jaurique will likely get the start for the Bears.

"Your pitching depth is going to come into play during this tournament," Souza said. "We've thrown one pitcher in two games and got two wins. The rest of our staff, I hope they are salivating and ready for the opportunity."