Mercers final season in the A-Sun will be one as the most hunted.
Before the 2013 and 2011 seasons, Mercer had company, topping the A-Sun preseason poll with Florida Gulf Coast. This time, the Bears are alone and with some room.
The Bears got seven first-place votes for 97 points, 11 points more than North Florida and 24 more than Florida Gulf Coast, the two teams that got the other three first-place votes.
Mercer also snared two of the top three individual honors. Junior third baseman Chesny Young, the top freshman in 2012, was the player of the year for 2013 and has that honor entering the 2014 season.
Senior second baseman Michael Massi was named the preseason defensive player of the year.
USC Upstates Chad Sobotkia is the pitcher of the year.
Mercers athletics program is in its final season in the A-Sun and will be in the Southern Conference starting in the fall.
Mercer had five first-teamers, Massi and Young being joined by starting pitcher Brandon Barker, relief pitcher Dimitri Kourtis and designated hitter Nick Backlund.
Kennesaw State had three players chosen, North Florida two, and there were one each from USC Upstate, Stetson and East Tennessee State.
Young and Backlund were both preseason picks a year ago, as well. That duo was joined by Kourtis on the all-conference first team for the 2013 season, with Barker getting a second-team nod.
Young made the A-Sun tournament team as well as the NCAA Starkville Region team last season.
He enters 2014 fifth on the all-time A-Sun list with a .386 career averag, and led the A-Sun in 2013 with a .401 average and 105 hits. He already has been picked to the third-team All-America lists by Louisville Slugger and the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association.
Massi batted .273 with two homers and 29 RBI along with 21 stolen bases and fielded at a .989 clip with only three errors on 262 chances.
Backlund, who has made assorted preseason and postseason All-America teams since transferring to Mercer, is the A-Suns active home run leader with 29. He batted .326 a year ago, and led the A-Sun with 13 homers and 68 RBI.
Barker tied for first in the conference with 17 starts and finished 7-2 as Mercers primary Friday night starter. He was third with 79 strikeouts and sixth with a 2.66 ERA.
Kourtis went from a starting role as a freshman to reliever as a sophomore and became one of the best around with a 5-3 record, 2.94 ERA and nine saves. He struck out 60 batters in 67-1/3 innings and didnt allow a home run.
Head coach Craig Gibson is 320-252 entering his 11th season.
Mercer has averaged 39.5 wins in the past four seasons, with two trips to the NCAA tournament in that span. The Bears are replacing starters at shortstop and right field and a portion of the catching duties, also losing NCAA saves leader David Teasley and starter David Randall from the pitching staff.
The A-Sun favorite opens the season with 10 straight home games, hosting High Point on Feb. 14 in the season opener, the homestand including games against Florida A&M, Evansville, Savannah State and Georgia Southern.
A-Sun baseball honors
Preseason player of the year: Chesny Young
Defensive player of the year: Michael Massi
Mercers first-team picks
2b Michael Massi, Sr.
3b Chesny Young, Jr.
DH Nick Backlund, Sr.
Starting pitcher Brandon Barker, Sr.
Relief pitcher Dimitri Kourtis, Jr.
A-Sun preseason poll
1. Mercer (7) 97
2. North Florida (1) 86
3. Florida Gulf Coast (2) 73
4. East Tennessee State 69
5. Kennesaw State 64
6. Stetson 60
7. Lipscomb 34
8. USC Upstate 30
9. Jacksonville 27
10. Northern Kentucky 10