When Mercer’s baseball season ended last May with two subpar games at the NCAA Starkville (Miss.) Regional, it didn’t take long for the Bears to start looking toward this season.
After all, the 2014 Bears would be loaded with experience, as well as the sour memory of the trip to Mississippi State.
Nick Backlund and Chesny Young were at the top of the list of talented returnees, and the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association realized as much by naming them to its preseason All-America team.
Backlund, a senior designated hitter, was a first-team pick, while junior third baseman Young made the third team.
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Backlund was a second-team choice after last season, when he batted .326 with 13 homers and 68 RBI. Young was a third-teamer after hitting .401, sixth nationally, and earning A-Sun MVP honors.
Mercer was one of 13 programs -- including LSU, UCLA, Mississippi State, Florida State, North Carolina and Vanderbilt -- to have more than one player named.
The Bears return six position players -- five of whom batted above .300 -- and seven regular pitchers from last year’s 43-18 team that won the A-Sun regular-season title and earned an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.
Mercer opens the season Feb. 14 against High Point, the first of 10 straight home games.
Former Trinity Christian basketball standout Anna Claire Knight is the latest student-athlete of the week in the Southern Conference.
Knight, a junior on the Georgia Southern women’s basketball team, carries a 3.84 GPA in sports management and is a two-time pick to the conference’s academic honor roll.
She had a team-high 19 points plus three rebounds and three assists in the Eagles’ 79-70 win over Wofford on Monday, helping Georgia Southern improve to 3-7 overall and 1-1 in conference play.
Knight is third in the conference in scoring with 15.5 points a game.
Georgia Southern takes on Eastern Illinois and North Florida this weekend at the Hampton Inn Oceanfront Holiday Classic in Jacksonville, Fla.
Academic honors are nothing new to Mercer men’s soccer seniors Joey Heavner and Ryan King, who were joined by junior Ashani Samuels on the National Soccer Coaches Association of America scholar All-South Region honorable mention team.
Heavner and King are repeat performers, Heavner in 2011 and King in 2012.
Heavner (business) has a 3.77 GPA, King (engineering) a 3.62 and Samuels (engineering) a 3.32.
East Tennessee State’s Itode Fubara was the only other A-Sun player recognized.
Georgia College is 7-0 after beating Anderson on Monday in women’s hoops, and the Bobcats again got five points in the latest Division II coaches poll.
The Bobcats are one of a dozen undefeated teams getting votes.
Georgia College has already passed its win total of 2011-12 and is on its best season-opening run since 2006-07 when the Bobcats finished 22-10 overall and 10-6 in the Peach Belt.
And the Bobcats will have a chance to impress more this weekend when they host the Stair South Classic at the Centennial Center.
UNC Pembroke (4-3) opens the action on Friday at 5:30 p.m. against Limestone (7-1), with Georgia College and Tuskegee (3-4) following at 7:30 p.m.
UNC Pembroke and Tuskegee tip off at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, followed by Georgia College and Limestone.
Limestone received 36 points in the latest poll, good for 32nd place.
Milestones in conference men’s basketball are on the verge of being reached.
East Tennessee State men’s basketball head coach Murry Bartow is three wins from 300, 193 of which have come with the Bucs.
Florida Gulf Coast’s Bernard Thompson passed the 1,000-point mark Tuesday in the Eagles’ 68-66 double-overtime loss to South Florida. Mercer’s Jake Gollon is next on the list with 972 points, ahead of Florida Gulf Coast’s Chase Fieler (955), USC Upstate’s Ty Greenea (952) and North Florida’s Travis Wallace (937).
Here are men’s basketball RPIs from ESPN and CBS Sports as of Wednesday morning before noon for the A-Sun and Southern conferences, as well as notables (includes Mercer opponents and state programs)
Team CBS ESPN Avg.
Mercer 72 77 74.5
USC Upstate 183 179 180.5
FGCU 213 196 204.5
ETSU 219 210 214.5
North Florida 226 230 228
Lipscomb 232 227 229.5
Kennesaw State260 244 252
Northern Ky. 318 316 317
Jacksonville 314 321 317.5
Stetson 348 350 349
Elon 121 147 134
Davidson 159 167 163
Western Carolina242 252 247
Wofford 251 247 249
Furman 264 271 267.5
App State 316 317 316.5
Georgia Southern320 322 321
UNC Greensboro323 331 327
Chattanooga 345 342 343.5
Citadel 344 345 344.4
Samford 343 346 344.5
Texas 27 32 29.5
Oklahoma 48 33 40.5
Mississippi 46 47 46.5
Ohio 73 85 79
Denver 106 110 108
Valparaiso 151 148 149.5
Seton Hall 153 152 152.5
Georgia Tech 161 163 162
Yale 167 172 169.5
Evansville 173 175 174
Georgia State 241 280 260.5
Georgia 321 318 319.5