Mercer a lock for NCAA baseball tournament

Macon TelegraphMay 23, 2013 

                Seven games will have come and gone by the time Mercer takes on East Tennessee State in the final game of the day Thursday at the Atlantic Sun tournament.

                The suspense will be there for the teams still alive, but Mercer will spend the rest of the week in DeLand in a very rare position, for the conference and most certainly for Mercer:

                In the NCAA tournament, no matter what happens.

                Yeah, such is the world college sports. Mercer has an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament locked up before the conference event even starts. And it's pretty much been that way for a month.

                Craig Gibson, normally a confident guy, keeps asking: "Are we in? You think we're in?"

                Even Monday, before the Bears earned their first-ever national ranking in one of the major polls, Gibson asked the question that's been answered.

                As for the rest of the conference, a multi-bid league more often than not, it goes back and forth

                Part of's May 15 analysis:

                 "Well, here's the breakdown this week: SEC (8), ACC (8), Sun Belt (4), Big East (4), Pac-12 (4), Big 10 (3), Big West (3), Big 12 (3), WCC (3), Big South (2), CAA (2), Conference USA (2). The rest of the conferences, including the Atlantic Sun, which appeared to be a possible three-bid league a few weeks ago, have just one postseason bid."

                Eight days later, FGCU was in the "hurt its case" category:

                "The Eagles didn't have a great chance to begin with of getting into the NCAA postseason, but with a strong run in the Atlantic Sun tournament, perhaps some things might change. Well, FGCU has some serious work to do after dropping a 3-1 decision to Kennesaw State to start the weekend. FGCU starting pitcher Ricky Knapp allowed three runs in a complete game performance, while Stephen Janas was his typical dominant self in the win. FGCU is now sitting at 67 in the RPI with a 3-8 mark vs. RPI Top 50 clubs."

                Perfect Game still had the A-Sun as a one-bid league on May 20, but did note:

                "Out of the current one-bid leagues, the Atlantic Sun and Missouri Valley potentially have the most to gain this week during conference tournaments. ...

                "As for the A-Sun, North Florida and Florida Gulf Coast are very much still in the postseason picture, though again, both have some work to do this week to put themselves on the good side of the postseason bubble.

                "UNF has struggled a bit the past couple of weeks, but still has an RPI of 54 with an impressive 38-17 overall record. The Ospreys are 4-4 vs. RPI Top 50 and 11-9 vs. RPI Top 100. Again, not a bad resume. Then there's FGCU. FGCU went through a skid in the middle of the season, but certainly showed at times this season it's a club that could win an NCAA Regional when clicking on all cylinders -- just ask Florida.

                "With that said, FGCU, which has an RPI of 61 with a 37-18 overall record, has some work to do. The Eagles are 3-8 vs. RPI Top 50 and 6-12 vs. RPI Top 100. In other words, FGCU still must not only pass UNF in the pecking order, but also other teams on the national stage. Not exactly an easy chore to say the least."

                That day, it had Mercer a two seed at Florida State, along with Florida and Savannah State. Other Perfect Game regional guesses: Western Carolina, Coastal Carolina and Ole Miss at Clemson; Bryant, Campbell and Georgia Tech at South Carolina

                The best-case scenario for the A-Sun would be for either North Florida or Florida Gulf Coast to nip Mercer and knock the  Bears out after a couple games for an Ospreys-Eagles championship game. The winner gets the automatic. If the loser knocked out Mercer, its RPI miiiiight just be high enough to get a third bid.

                Have thought that for several weeks, and the two teams have been on the bubble for that long. Then on Tuesday from Baseball America, which put UNF "on the bubble (in)" and kept FGCU "on the bubble (out):

                "One change from last week: North Florida rejoins our field of 64, making the A-Sun a two-bid league. If a team other than Mercer or North Florida wins the automatic bid, the Bears will definitely get an at-large spot, but we suspect the A-Sun would remain a two-bid league, costing the Ospreys a bid.

                "FGCU and North Florida remain in at-large striking distance of at-large RPI range at No. 59 and No. 56, respectively. Neither team has a regular-season championship to boost its resume, so both probably need to climb into the top 50 to boost their hopes, especially since the Eagles are just 3-8 against the top 50 while the Ospreys are 4-4. FGCU is just 6-12 against the top 100, which is the biggest blemish on its resume.

                "North Florida is in better shape in that measure (12-9), making up for its head-to-head series loss to FGCU two weeks ago. And the Ospreys own a needed series win against Mercer. North Florida is certainly on shaky ground, but for now is one of our last teams to sneak into the field of 64."

                FGCU lost 3-1 Wednesday night to Kennesaw State (155 RPI) and that will make life tough for the Eagles. Starter Ricky Knapp went nine, so the bullpen

                North Florida thumped Lipscomb 6-1 on Thursday in less than two hours and gets Kennesaw State Friday morning while FGCU now faces Lipscomb later Thursday in an elimination game.

                So the suspense continues in the A-Sun. Except for the Bears.


More baseball

                Georgia Tech long ago played its way out of a national seed or hosting, but the Yellow Jackets have played their way out of a trip a few time zones away.

                Projections a few weeks ago had Tech heading to Oregon, but now it looks like they'll be within a decent drive. Where? Conference tournament play will dictate that.

                Florida State is a host, and both Clemson and South Carolina may host as well. Tech could head to Vanderbilt.

                Savannah State turned it around in a year and won the MEAC, so the Tigers have given that campus something to smile about athletically with the NCAA berth.

                The No. 180 team in RPI could help keep Mercer close to home as well. Perfect Game on Tuesday at the Tigers and Bears at FSU with Florida, which would be a mighty interesting gathering.

                SE on Wednesday sent Mercer to Clemson and Savannah State to Vanderbilt, with Georgia Tech.










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