The Mercer baseball team earned the program’s third trip to the NCAA Tournament in 2015 by winning the Southern Conference Tournament title.
Then the Bears won the conference regular-season title last year and were one win away from another trip to the NCAA Tournament by cruising to the championship round of the conference tournament. But Mercer then lost twice to Western Carolina — 4-2 and 3-2 — sending the Catamounts to the NCAA Tournament instead of the Bears.
The focus of this season is getting back to Greenville, South Carolina, for the conference tournament and winning one more game.
“Winning the regular-season championship was awesome, but we always want to win that tournament,” junior Jackson Ware said. “Coming really close last year, we’re working for that last game. We want to win four games in Greenville. That’s what we’re working towards.”
The Bears’ road begins at 4 p.m. on Friday as they open their season against Maryland-Eastern Shore. That game will be the Bears’ first at their new-look stadium: Claude Smith Field at OrthoGeorgia Park.
“Not revenge. Just trying to get that one last win,” senior pitcher Ryan Askew said of the focus of this season. “Everything is one extra rep, one more suicide during conditioning, one more rep when we’re doing squats. Everything is just trying to get that one extra to get over that hump that we didn’t get over last year. We want to get back to that same position again and get that win.”
The Bears will try to do that without standout center fielder Kyle Lewis, who was last year’s Golden Spikes Award winner and was drafted by the Seattle Mariners in the first round. Askew and sophomore Kevin Coulter lead the pitching staff, while the lineup returns Ware and fellow junior Trey Truitt, along with seniors Ryan Hagan, Charlie Madden, Matt Meeder, Hunter Bening and Danny Edgeworth.
“We’re really hungry for it this year for that championship,” Truitt said. “We’re super excited. We lost a big piece with Kyle, but we’re all prepared and ready to go.
“We have a junior-senior heavy lineup, a lot of experience on the field all the way around, and we’re prepared to go, a lot of experience out there with seeing pitches. And we know what’s to come and what to expect, so we’ll be ready.”