The seniors got the comfy, stuffed leather couches in the front row, and the underclassmen sat behind them on harder chairs.
When the NCAA baseball tournament selection show began at 12:30 p.m. on Monday, Mercer’s baseball team was remarkably quiet, hanging on every word for the first few minutes.
That changed drastically eight minutes into the broadcast when the field for the Atlanta Regional popped up, and there was Mercer.
“Just to see Mercer’s name on a national stage on ESPN really was special,” head coach Craig Gibson said. “To have our president here, it means a whole lot.
“Just like with our (men’s) basketball team. I thought it was special to play (East Tennessee State) in the (tournament) championship game (on ESPN).”
Mercer and a collection of fans, school officials, other Mercer athletes and coaches watched the show from the Bear Rock Café in the University Center.
The Bears will take on host Georgia Tech at 7 p.m. on Friday, with Elon facing Alabama at 3 p.m. at Russ Chandler Stadium.
After the announcement, Gibson presented mounted, glass-encased baseballs from the A-Sun tournament to outgoing athletics director Bobby Pope and president William Underwood.
Gibson, knowing the NCAA’s intent to keep expenses in check, wasn’t surprised the Bears were sent to Atlanta.
“I had a feeling we’d be in Atlanta because of the proximity,” he said. “I didn’t know how (the NCAA) viewed us playing them already.
“My thing is I wouldn’t have minded going to a different site (and where) we haven’t played the opponent. We’ve played at Tech. I think it’s different to get a different site that the kids haven’t been on.
“But we’re certainly excited to play in Atlanta.”
The Bears read the predictions that they would head to Auburn and were pretty much planning for a weekend on The Plains.
“I read three websites before we came over here, and they said Auburn,” senior second baseman Michael Langley said. “But I have some friends there (at Georgia Tech), so I keep up with them a lot.”
Langley, a Parkview graduate, has played with slugger Tony Plagman and closer Andrew Robinson.
Pitching coach Brent Shade’s enthusiasm dimmed a little bit.
“Getting out that lineup one through nine?” he said. “I’m not gonna sleep much this week.”
It won’t hurt Mercer’s recruiting a bit. The Bears have more than a dozen players from within 25 miles of Russ Chandler Stadium, and about half of the team comes from north of Macon.
Langley would have liked a change of scenery, but the Parkview grad will see plenty of familiar faces.
Tech was awarded a No. 8 national seed and is one of eight ACC teams making the tournament. Virginia is also a host. Tournament champion Florida State is headed to Norwich, Conn., as the regional’s top seed.
Of all 64 teams, Mercer is the only one making its first appearance in the NCAA tournament.
The Bears handled business in the A-Sun tournament in four games, dispatching East Tennessee State and Jacksonville twice to improve to 37-22.
The Yellow Jackets went 1-2 in pool play in the ACC tournament but are ranked between sixth and 12th in the major polls and 10th in two RPIs and 11th in another.
Georgia Tech has not been a friendly neighbor, although head coach Danny Hall has played Mercer in a home-and-home series for several years.
The Yellow Jackets thumped the Bears 15-8 in Macon on March 23 and 19-4 in Atlanta a day later.
“We’re a better team, but they’re a great team, and we’re going to face a first-rounder,” Gibson said. “But our guys believe.”
Mercer is 19-13 since then, Georgia Tech 27-11. The Bears have won 17-of-20 while the Yellow Jackets went 11-6 in May.
“We’re a different club than when we played them early in the year,” Gibson said. “Our guys certainly believe we can compete and play.”
A while after the show and announcement, back in his office preparing for a conference call and recruiting trip, Gibson was happy but a little more subdued than right after the Bears saw their name on the screen, and he was pretty fired up while briefly addressing the onlookers.
“We’re a different team (Monday) than we were the last time we played the Yellow Jackets,” he told them. “I talked to their coach (Sunday) and I told him, ‘You better get ready for a fight, because we’re bringing it.’ ”