Tyler McCarty had just had a strong senior night, and Craig Gibson talked about his sharp-hitting first baseman and designated hitter.
“He’s been with me five years,” Mercer’s head coach said after a May 20 win over Belmont. “He’s like a brother. I don’t want to say he’s like a son because I don’t want to feel that old.”
So here’s something that will, in fact, age Gibson even more.
Nobody on this team was anywhere near being born the last time Mercer won the A-Sun baseball tournament title.
Well, Gibson was a well-rested freshman on that team, which included future pros Tim Smith, Jack Pool and Jeff Thompson.
“Not a whole lot at all,” Gibson said of his playing time. “We were mostly seniors. I was one of the few freshmen.”
Pitching coach Brent Shade? He was all of 4 years old in Toledo, Ohio. And the current Bears were all about seven years, give or take, from birth.
None of them will forget four days in Nashville, Tenn., as they came up with one of the school’s best postseason efforts, regardless of the sport.
Mercer went into the A-Sun tournament oozing confidence and played with it.
“I really felt all along that we were the best team,” Gibson said. “When you take (Florida Gulf Coast pitcher Chris) Sale out of it, I thought we were the best team.”
Sale is projected to be a top-15 draft pick, and FGCU was 27-20 without his wins. He struck out 146 batters in 103 innings and had a 2.01 ERA.
The Eagles lost two straight after he opened the tournament Wednesday.
“We talked about taking advantage of our opportunity,” Gibson said. “We didn’t let it get away.”
The Bears committed four errors in the tournament, none in the championship game.
Mercer’s offense showed up, as expected, but the pitching performances may have surprised outsiders. Pitching, however, was what Gibson thought would pull the Bears through. The Bears finished the tournament with a 3.25 ERA, a clutch performance after entering with a 5.88 ERA.
“Our pitching staff, I don’t think they got a lot of the credit,” Gibson said. “Those guys did a tremendous job over a four-game period.”
Freshman walk-on David Teasley made a run at tournament MVP. He pitched in every game and had only one subpar outing, giving up four runs in 3-1/3 innings on Saturday afternoon in the 10-7 win over ETSU.
He went 9-1/3 innings in the tournament with only one run allowed in the other three games.
Freshman Matt McCall in the opener and sophomore Brandon Love in the third game gave Mercer quality starts, and the bullpen never caved. Mercer trailed for only one full inning in four games, the seventh in that Saturday win over ETSU.
To say Mercer’s first trip to the NCAA tournament is a long time coming is an understatement. As a player, assistant coach and head coach, Gibson has worn Mercer colors for 21 of his 45 years.
“I’ll tell you, when that last out was made, watching those guys charge that field, man, it was an unbelievable feeling,” Gibson said. “It was like, ‘Wow, it’s really happening. It’s gonna happen.’ ”
Mercer is only the fourth school from the current roster of A-Sun members to advance to the NCAA tournament, joining Stetson (13 trips), Jacksonville (six) and Lipscomb (one.). Overall, nine other teams have won the conference tournament since Mercer did it in 1983.
The NCAA tournament in 1983 had only 36 teams.
Mercer placed five players on the all-tournament team, less than the past few champions (Jacksonville had six last year and in 2007, Lipscomb had seven in 2008 and Stetson six in 2006), but deciding who else to add and leave off was difficult.
Senior Nick DiMauro outhit sophomore Jacob Tanis but only by nine percentage points. DiMauro cooled off a bit after his 5-for-5 opener against Jacksonville, and Tanis came up with two big home runs on championship day.
Mercer hit .380 with Tanis belting two homers, a triple and a double. John Moreland had three doubles and a homer, and DiMauro and Thomas Carroll each had two doubles with Joe Winker and Michael Langley adding homers and Burns a triple.
Burns, Tanis, DiMauro and Langley all batted better than .400 with Carroll, Moreland and Winker better than .333.
“I didn’t think any (No.) 2, 3, 4 or 5 starter could beat our hitters,” Gibson said. “And they didn’t. Sale? Yeah, Sale can beat you. But the other guys, they’re going to make a mistake somewhere.
“There are just too many threats in that lineup. Somebody’s gonna get you.”
Tanis was humble afterward when asked on the field about the MVP trophy.
“No better feeling, Tanis said. “But just hoisting that team trophy is the best feeling ever.
“We always have each other’s back. It’s awesome.”
The road to the championship
Mercer 10, Jacksonville 1
Matt McCall allows one hit into the sixth inning, Mercer gets 15 hits Thursday Mercer 10, East Tennessee State 7 Three-run eighth and clutch bullpen work lead to win.
Mercer 3, East Tennessee 1
Brandon Love throws nearly seven solid innings and Mercer plays small ball Mercer 7, Jacksonville 3 David Teasley ends another threat, and Mercer bats get going late
Top 10 seasons
(percentage, minimum 40 games)
1981 39-12-1 76.0
1979 38-16 70.4
1978 32-16 66.7
1980 33-17 66.0
1975 30-17 63.8
2010 37-22 62.7
1977 32-20 61.5
1982 35-22 61.4
1997 36-23 61.0
1999 36-24 60.0
36 1997, 1999
32 1994, 1978, 1977
6. Michael Langley, .396
1. Jacob Tanis, 254
2. Langley 250
3. Thomas Carroll 247
8. Tyler McCarty 226
1. Langley 99
3. Tanis 97
T7. McCarty 78
T9. Carroll 77
1. Billy Burns 69
4. Tanis 66
T1. Langley, Tanis 24
T3. Carroll 22
T8. Nick DiMauro, McCarty 17
T4. Burns 3
T2. Tanis 22
T4. John Moreland 21
Runs batted in
2. Tanis 86
9. Carroll 61
2. Burns 29
1. Tanis 198
T6. Langley 143
8. Moreland 136
T.4 Boyd 158
T.4, J.T. Odom, David Teasely 5