Mike Raynor was convinced that he would be spending this week on the practice fields and making travel arrangements for the Mercer softball team’s trip as an at-large team to the NCAA tournament.
Even after the Bears lost 1-0 to Campbell in the A-Sun tournament championship in DeLand, Fla., Raynor thought the odds were good that his teal would be playing.
Instead, he’s on a pond near Tifton fishing.
“Just hiding out from the world,” he said with a laugh.
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Raynor liked Mercer’s resume before the tournament: 44th nationally in winning percentage, 53rd in the NCAA’s RPI, 50th in the National Fastpitch Coaches Association, fifth nationally in defense and 25th in ERA.
Mercer, the third seed in the A-Sun tourney, was ahead of Campbell and Lipscomb — the A-Sun’s top two seeds — in both RPI rankings. The Ultimate College Softball Web site listed Mercer has having a chance to make the NCAA tournament even if it didn’t win the A-Sun.
The Bears eliminated Lipscomb and lost 1-0 twice to Campbell in the tournament, yet Sunday night’s announcement of the field on ESPNU came and went, and one of 23 Division I teams eligible for the NCAA tournament with 40 or more wins was staying home.
“I was really disappointed for our girls,” he said. “I was really disappointing, especially with the fact that some teams got in there ...”
In fact, Mercer and East Carolina were the only 40-win teams not to make it. South Florida and Creighton have complaints, as well.
Mercer strength of schedule was 83rd, second-best among the four.
ECU had RPIs of 39 and 44, the best of the four. South Florida was 45th and 48th with the 43rd schedule. Creighton was 67th and 60th with a schedule of 143.
The A-Sun’s conference RPI was 11th out of 31, but the 10th-ranked Mountain West has two at-large teams with San Diego State (43/46, SOS 67) and UNLV (42/41, SOS 47). The 12th-ranked Ohio Valley Conference got an at-large with Jacksonville State.
Several teams in the NCAA tournament are within only a few games of .500, including automatic qualifiers Florida A&M (30-30), Sacred Heart (25-26) and Bradley (25-26). But at-large bids went to Mississippi State (28-26), Auburn (29-27) and Arkansas (27-27). Mississippi State failed to qualify for the SEC tournament, lost to Kennesaw State, the A-Sun’s eighth-place team, and was 13-24 against top-100 teams.
Mississippi State and Auburn each lost twice to A-Sun teams, Mercer sweeping Auburn on the road.
Raynor is a former SEC umpire and isn’t singing that conference’s praises right now, thanks to the selection committee.
“No, I’m not, no,” Raynor said. “You can take the SEC, divide it into two halves — the upper half and lower half — and you can plug in the Atlantic Sun in that lower half and you might have the Atlantic Sun win nine of 10 ballgames. That’s with the four or five top teams in the A-Sun.”
What did brighten Raynor’s mood was already looking at next year’s depth chart. Mercer loses only three starters from this year’s team and returns two first-team all-conference players in outfielder Holly Oglesbee and pitcher Jenni Holtz.
“I’m anxious to get the new (players) in there,” Raynor said. “We’re getting better again, not to take away from our seniors that graduated. August won’t get here soon enough.”
BOBCATS SEEK REDEMPTION
Georgia College & State will get a chance to erase the taste of one of its worst performances of the season in its last game.
The Bobcats stranded eight runners, committed seven errors and gave up 11 runs in the final three innings to lose 15-6 to UNC Pembroke in the first round of the single-elimination Peach Belt Conference baseball tournament.
But the NCAA’s selection committee liked the Bobcats’ overall body of work — a high regional ranking for most of the season and a 37-17 record — and added them to the NCAA regional.
The 17th-ranked Bobcats also get another chance to play well on the field where they kicked it around seven times. The third-seeded Bobcats will play fourth-seeded Catawba at 11 a.m. today at USC Aiken. The GCSU-Catawba winner plays at 3 p.m. on Friday, the loser at 11 a.m. on Friday.
The Bobcats, however, are not exactly on a roll, having lost four of six.
“This game so tough,” head coach Tom Carty said. “And baseball’s a funny game. That’s why we play it.”
FOUR JOIN MERCER RUNNERS
Mercer head women’s cross country coach Ryan Bailey didn’t use up much of the travel budget to add four runners, staying in state.
Bailey has signed Kassandra Knapper, Hannah Stark, Alesa Webber and Rebecca Broome, all within two hours of Macon.
Knapper was a captain and track standout at Whitewater. Stark was Franklin County’s top middle-distance runner as a freshman and two-time school runner of the year.
Webber won three letters in cross country and two in track at Shiloh, while Broome helped Woodland to a region championship and seventh-place finish n the state meet.
GCSU ADDS BELL
Joey Bell will begin his college basketball career on the same floor he ended his high school career.
Georgia College & State signed the guard from First Presbyterian Christian Academy in Hinesville, only a few months after he helped his school to its second GISA Class A state title on GCSU’s Centennial Center court.
Bell was FPC’s all-time leading scorer with more than 1,500 points, averaging 20.6 points, 4.6 assists, and 3.1 steals and rebounds as a senior.
Chelsea Wilson had the grades to make the Peach Belt Conference’s all-academic team, but didn’t, according to the conference release.
But the Peach Belt realized it had goofed and omitted Wilson, who had made the team with a 3.65 GPA in mass communication. The correction came two days after the original announcement.
She joined pitcher Mandy Chandler, shortstop Lindsey Swanson and third baseman Kori Pickowitz on the team.
Ÿ Mercer wasn’t picked for the NCAA softball tournament, but Middle Georgia has some representation with former John Milledge standout Meredith Linch, a pitcher at Miami of Ohio.
Miami won the Mid-American Conference and is 32-22.
Linch is 9-9 for the 32-22 Redhawks with a 3.06 ERA. The junior, an all-conference pitcher last season with a 13-16 record and 3.40 ERA, has three shutouts and a save.
Ÿ Melessa Jackson (Jones County) is batting .348 for Valdosta State, which competes this week in the NCAA Division II softball super regional at Alabama-Huntsville.
Jackson, a sophomore center fielder who played last year at ABAC, is fourth in batting for the Blazers and third with nine steals while leading VSU with 12 sacrifices.