This time last year, Luke Mercer was playing catch in the Tipton Elementary School Gym.
Having turned in an All-State performance and leading the Cardinals to the Missouri state tournament last season at shortstop, Mercer debuted on the mound Sunday for Central Missouri in a 12-1 victory over Pittsburg State.
Mercer relieved Mules starter Carlos D’Armas in the seventh inning of a mercy rule victory. He retired the Gorillas in order and had one strikeout.
While one could understand nerves before a college debut, Mercer said he remained focused.
“We prepare a lot throughout the week,” Mercer said. “You just have to trust that you know how to play the game and that you’ve prepared. You just go out and perform.”
Eric McNeal coaches softball for Tipton this season, but coached Mercer his during his freshman, sophomore and senior season. McNeal said Mercer was a dedicated athlete.
“Schools our size, we don’t always get college looks,” McNeal said. “So these kids have to market themselves in the summer. Luke (Mercer) was very proactive about doing that. He’s an invested kid. He was invested in the sport of baseball.”
I frankly expected to be hearing his name very soon, it’s kind of cool that its’ happening this early.”
While Mercer played shortstop at Tipton, he pitched over the summer for the KC Bullets. That’s where UCM coaches saw him on three separate occasions.
Central Missouri head coach Kyle Crookes said it was pitching “all the way” in reference to Mercer.
“His arm worked and he was athletic,” Crookes said. “He could really spin a slider. His velocity was pretty good and it was something we projected could get better.”
The 5-foot-11 freshman said his favorite memories of high school were winning the Class 2 District 14 championship last year and three Kaysinger Conference titles. The difference in college, Mercer said, is the mindset.
“Back in high school it was more laid back, more easy going,” Mercer said. “College baseball is more serious, a business-like approach. In college it’s like, ‘this is what you’re here to do. It’s a more serious approach.’”
College may be a more demanding environment, but Crookes and McNeal agree that Mercer is a “goofy” person with a good sense of humor.
“He worked hard,” McNeal said. But he always had a good sense of humor. He was able to keep things light. You want someone who will work hard but not someone so keyed up he can’t work with the group.”
Alex Agueros can be reached at 660-826-1000, ext. 1483 or on Twitter @abagueros2