Yes, Kyle Lewis has embarked on his professional baseball career with the Seattle Mariners organization, and it would be hard for many programs to move on without their most accomplished player ever.
But Mercer wasn’t a one-man team last year as it won the Southern Conference regular-season title, and the Bears have plenty of returning talent and leadership from last year.
Mercer opens its 2017 season at 4 p.m. on Friday against Maryland-Eastern Shore at OrthoGeorgia Park.
“I think it starts with Charlie Madden, the guy behind the plate, a draft guy by the Chicago White Sox, and our No 1 pitcher, Ryan Askew; he threw 100 innings for us,” Mercer head coach Craig Gibson said. “And All-American closer (Robert) Broom is back. You go around the infield, Hunter Bening, Ryan Hagan, Matt Meeder, Danny Edgeworth. We have (Trey) Truitt in center, who’s a dynamic piece, and Jackson Ware, so it’s a talented group of returners.”
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Lewis was the Golden Spikes Award winner and a first-round pick by the Mariners who batted .395 with 20 home runs and 72 RBI, so he will be difficult to replace. But the lineup should be strong once again.
Madden is the Bears’ catcher, and he batted .287 last year with 50 RBI and 11 home runs. Truitt batted .335 with 17 home runs with 54 RBI, while Hagan batted .316 with 55 RBI.
Meeder and Bening both batted .279 and had more than 25 RBI, while Edgeworth had 10 home runs and 41 RBI, and Jackson Ware had 31 RBI.
“We lost a great piece in the three-hole, a great average, a lot of home runs, but it’s not really about one person,” Meeder said. “It’s about nine guys on the team, really relying on each other and not just one person, which we have been all along. Kyle was just a big piece of that puzzle.”
And that puzzle has been successful through the years. Mercer won the Southern Conference Tournament title in 2015 and the regular-season title last year.
The Bears have been to the NCAA Tournament three times in their history.
“I think that’s very important. I preach a lot about legacy and what’s your mark going to be on the program. I think the worth ethic and what these guys have done in the classroom and off the field and all the individual work, they’ve laid the groundwork,” Gibson said. “And they’ve seen it when they came in from guys who have done that also, just how do you compete daily and get better daily and you build a championship.
“Hopefully, we have a great season this year and have a great season next year. And that’s what we’re hopefully doing around here.”