Gibson takes Mercer baseball to next level

sports@macon.comMay 20, 2013 

Mercer has a storied baseball history that dates back more than 140 years, when the university fielded its first team in 1871. The Bears’ first full-time head coach was George “Tweedy” Stallings, who went on to guide the 1914 Boston Braves to a World Series championship.

That Braves team, which was in last place in July of that season, became known as the “Miracle Braves,” and Stallings was known as the Miracle Manager.

The legendary Cy Young, for whom the pitching award is named, coached Mercer from 1903 through 1905, leading the “Baptists” to three Georgia state championships.

In Mercer’s modern baseball history, which began after World War II, the Bears have had just three head coaches: Claude Smith, who won 405 games in 29 years; Barry Myers, with 661 wins in 25 years; and current head coach Craig Gibson, now in his 10th season with 319 victories.

In a conversation with Gibson prior to the start of the season, he said he thought this year’s team had a chance to be special, and was he ever right. The Bears got off to a great start in February in a tournament in Florida by beating St. John’s, Ohio State and Notre Dame.

Gibson is no stranger to success. As a high school player, he led River North to back-to-back GISA baseball championships in 1981 and 1982. As a player at Mercer, he was the conference player of the year as a junior in 1985, batting .387 that season with 19 home runs and 65 RBI.

Following his playing days, Gibson was a successful high school coach at three different schools in West Palm Beach, Fla., in the late ’80s and early ’90s before returning to Mercer as an assistant to Myers in 1993. Following Myers’ retirement following the 2003 season, Gibson was named Mercer’s head coach.

In his 10 years with the Bears, Gibson has compiled an impressive record of 319-247, which includes a conference tournament championship in 2010 and a first-time spot for Mercer in the NCAA baseball tournament, defeating Elon while losing to Georgia Tech and Alabama.

Since that 2010 appearance in the NCAA tournament, Mercer has a 119-55 record. In that period in games against Division I opponents from the state of Georgia, the Bears are 23-10, with a 7-0 record against Savannah State, 3-1 against Georgia Southern, 3-2 against Georgia State, 5-4 against Kennesaw State, 1-1 against Georgia and 4-2 against Georgia Tech.

Prior to the current stretch, Mercer had lost 19 straight to Georgia and 17 in a row to Georgia Tech. Since taking over the head coaching duties, Gibson has had wins over Florida, Clemson and Miami, all three of those coming when those teams were ranked in the top five in the nation.

The current Mercer team is in unchartered waters. The team’s 42 wins is a program record, and the Bears’ national ranking, which has been as high as 21 in several polls and all the way to No. 1 in the mid-major poll, are marks that have never been previously reached.

Mercer’s RPI has been in the top 30 all season long, and, no matter the outcome of this week’s A-Sun tournament in DeLand, Fla., the Bears should be in line for an NCAA at-large berth at worst. The RPI is based on a team’s wins and losses and strength of schedule and is a major determining factor in selecting at-large teams for the NCAA in postseason play for baseball, basketball, soccer, volleyball and hockey.

Gibson has done an incredible job in his 10 seasons at Mercer, and don’t be surprised if some big-time baseball program comes calling to seek his services.

Bobby Pope is the executive director of the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame. Contact him at bobbypope428@gmail.com

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