As the spring sports season nears a conclusion, the WPIAL Alum Q&A takes a look back at a former Montour star who just concluded a successful baseball career at the University of Pittsburgh. Sam Mersing is this week’s feature for the final spotlight for the 2016-17 school year.
Mersing began his varsity career with the Spartans as a freshman in 2010, and helped the team qualify for the postseason, following a three-year absence. That campaign, Montour went 15-7, defeating Greensburg Salem in the first round of the Class AAA playoffs, but then falling to Hopewell in the semifinals.
The next season, Mersing developed into the ace of the squad, and helped the Spartans return to the playoffs. Montour compiled a mark of 11-3 in section play, but lost in the first round, again to Hopewell, finishing with a record of 14-5.
The final two seasons of Mersing’s high-school career did not include the postseason, as the Spartans went 12-8 and 8-12 in 2012 and 2013, respectively. His individual numbers were sterling, though, as Mersing posted a career record of 17-7, with an ERA of less than 2.00 in each of his four seasons. Additionally, he was named an All-Section performer for every season.
Mersing elected to continue his academic and athletic career with the University of Pittsburgh, joining the Panthers for the 2014 season. That campaign, he pitching in 13 games, including one start. Mersing went 2-2 with an ERA of 5.12, as the Panthers went 22-30, and 11-19 in their first season of ACC play.
In 2015, Mersing shifted primarily to midweek starter, as he pitched in 11 games, including eight starts. In those affairs, he went 3-3, with an ERA of 5.17. In 47 innings, Mersing struck out 39 batters. He also took a no-hitter into the seventh inning against Kent State. Overall, Pitt finished 20-32, including 9-21 mark in conference action.
Last year, Mersing served a similar role, acting as the midweek starter and making sporadic relief appearances. He posted a winning mark for the first time at the college level, going 5-3. His ERA increased to 6.19, though, as he struck out 42 hitters in nearly 57 frames. The Panthers enjoyed more success, however, with a mark of 25-26 overall, 10-18 in ACC contests.
In his senior year, Mersing returned to the bullpen full time, as he made 26 appearances, all in relief. The move paid dividends, as he achieved a record of 3-2 and an earned-run average of 3.20. Mersing also registered three saves and fanned 42 batters in just more than 50 innings. Despite an array of injuries and unexpected departures, Pitt went 23-30, and 9-21 in ACC play.
Mersing took time after the conclusion of the season to talk about his role changing, Pitt’s biggest rival, and which movie he frequently quotes.
Q: Statistically, this was your best college season. What was key to your success in 2017?
A: First and foremost, I think a huge part of my success was dropping my arm down from 3/4 to side arm. Surprisingly, it was a very easy transition for me. After that, it was just throwing strikes and competing out of the bullpen each and every night.
Q: You had started several games in previous seasons, but this year, you were exclusively a reliever. What are the challenges of each role, and which do you prefer?
A: The main goal of each position is giving your team a chance to win. As a starter, you’re trying to make it to the sixth or seventh inning; making sure the game never gets out of hand. As a reliever, especially my role this year, I was coming in at pivotal moments in the game with guys on base or a one-run ball game. That adrenaline rush coming into the game in big situations is why I would choose relief over starting.
Q: Did you increased your leadership or become more vocal during your senior season?
A: In the past, I believe I’ve always had a leadership role, but it was always leading by example. This year, I was a lot more vocal, but that’s what was required of me. We had a lot of young guys this year, and I made it a part of my job to make sure I was helping these guys out as much as I could each and every day.
Q: What pitches do you throw, and do you have one that you consider your “out pitch”?
A: As I mentioned, I dropped from 3/4 arm slot to sidearm. However, my repertoire didn’t change much. I throw a sinker, slider, and changeup/palm ball. I would definitely consider my slider as my out pitch.
Q: How would you evaluate your team’s performance this season?
A: I was very proud of all the effort and heart that this team showed this year. We came up short in the end, but we did a lot of amazing things that a lot of people didn’t believe we could.
Q: Which team do you consider Pitt baseball’s biggest rival?
A: It’s easy for me to say as a Pitt fan growing up that Penn State and West Virginia are our biggest rivalries, and that hasn’t changed after playing four years of college baseball against both teams. There was always a big red circle around their names on my calendar. However, in ACC play, I would definitely say our biggest rivalry is Duke. In my four years at Pitt, it seems like the Duke series was always the most intense and memorable series of the year.
Q: Joe Jordano has been a fixture of Pitt baseball for decades. What is his best quality, in your opinion?
A: I believe Coach Jordano’s (aka The Skipper) best quality is the positivity he brings to the ball park each and every day. When things are going good, he does nothing but praise us. When things are going bad, he stands up, brings us all together, and lifts the spirits to continue to fight and battle until the final out, no matter how ugly a game or practice would get.
Q: Why did you decide to continue your career at the University of Pittsburgh?
A: A lot of people ask me this question, and over the last four years, the answer hasn’t changed. I committed not only because it’s an amazing program and an amazing school; I committed to Pitt because it was close to home, and there was nothing I wanted more than for my No. 1 fan, my Pap, to come watch me play as much as he could.
Q: What is your major and ideal future profession?
A: This summer, I will be graduating with a Bachelors Degree of Science, majoring in administration of justice. The main goal, as it has been my goal since a very young age, is to get picked up in the upcoming MLB draft and continue my baseball career. If that doesn’t happen, I look forward to starting a new career, hopefully with the Pennsylvania State Police.
Q: What was your fondest memory from Montour High School?
A: That’s a tough one, but I would have to say building relationships with friends. Surprisingly, after fours years of college, I am still extremely close to a lot of my high school friends, which I don’t believe is always the case.
Q: Have you kept in contact with your former high school coaches or teammates?
A: Not as much the coaches, for no particular reason, but players for sure. I look forward to playing with most of them in local softball leagues in the near future.
Q: Aside from baseball, what is your favorite hobby?
A: Hunting is definitely my favorite hobby. Another perk of staying close to home, I was able to hunt really anytime I wanted. And I actually got a lot of my teammates, like Manny Pazos, who have never even considered hunting, involved.
Q: To which movie can you recite nearly every line?
A: The Longest Yard is an absolute classic, and a movie I have been stealing quotes from for years.
Q: If you woke up tomorrow as a millionaire, what is the first thing you’d do?
A: Four years ago, I’d say buy a new truck or a new boat. But now, I’d pay off any remaining bills my parents may have, and throw everything else towards student loans.
Q: What is the best advice you have ever received?
A: Over the years, I’ve had a lot of amazing coaches and mentors who have been father figures to me. Yet, no one can replace your own father. I can still to this day count the number of games my dad has missed on my two hands in the last 20 years. Every single game over the last four years, my dad would shoot me a text that morning before the game and say “Take nothing for granted.” At first, I took a lot for granted. However, as I grew older, I came to appreciate all the smaller things in life, and in baseball. So for that, I’ll never be able to thank my dad enough. He’s the reason I’m where I’m at today, and he’s the reason I’m the man I’ve became.