Mercer having strong year

dshirley@macon.comApril 5, 2013 

Mercer’s athletics department has had a strong year this school year that has been highlighted by the school’s basketball programs heading to postseason play.

The men’s team won the A-Sun regular-season title and won a game in the NIT after losing in the conference tournament’s championship game. The women’s team played in the Women’s Basketball Invitational after finishing third in the A-Sun regular season and winning a game in the conference tournament, which were both unexpected for a program that was picked to finished at the bottom of the A-Sun before the season.

It was a terrific season and very close to being truly special.

The Bears baseball team has taken the baton from the basketball teams and is doing its best to make this school year just that: special.

Craig Gibson has long had a terrific program; he has done a wonderful job building a program in a state filled with strong college baseball programs. Georgia Tech and Georgia, obviously, have the strongest traditions of any of the teams in the state, but Georgia Southern and Georgia State have been strong for years, as well, and Kennesaw State is a solid program.

But Gibson’s team is right there with the best of them, even though he has some disadvantages in facilities and budget when going against some of them in recruiting. The program’s success on the field says a lot about the program he has built and the job he has done.

That has continued this season, and Mercer looks like a team that will be right in the hunt for the A-Sun title. The Bears entered Friday’s game at North Florida tied for first place in the conference after winning two of three games in each of their first three conference series. The A-Sun is a strong baseball conference – baseball is probably the conference’s top sport – and it will be a tough test for Mercer to win the conference.

But the Bears look like they are up to the task. They have been strong outside of the conference, as well, beating Notre Dame, Ohio State and St. John’s early in the season while also beating Georgia State.

Their biggest win of the season came this week when they knocked off nationally ranked Georgia Tech 10-1 in a game that should boost the Bears’ profile for the NCAA tournament. That win certainly will help Mercer’s cause if it doesn’t win the A-Sun tournament and earn the automatic bid into the NCAA tournament. Wins like that one -- Georgia Tech is ranked 12th in the Baseball America Top 25 and 15th in the Collegiate Baseball poll -- help teams get at-large bids to the NCAA tournament, but the Bears’ obvious focus is on winning the A-Sun.

Not only are the Bears playing well; they are fun to watch. Entering this week, Mercer led the nation in runs scored and home runs and was fourth in hits, while ranking 26th in average. They usually put on a show with their lineup (they have scored double digits in 10 games this season and a 24-8 record entering Friday’s game), and that offense should be dangerous throughout the rest of the year.

That kind of offense and the continued winning will carry over the momentum the from basketball season through the spring and take Mercer’s strong year to the next level.

Contact Daniel Shirley at 744-4227 or dshirley@macon.com

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