Entering the season, Mercer’s baseball team was picked to finish third in the Southern Conference.
Instead, it was another third that the Bears accomplished this season: a third straight conference regular-season championship. Mercer has dominated the conference throughout the season and enters its final regular-season series against Western Carolina with an 18-4 conference record.
The Bears are 38-13 overall and have won at least 35 games for eight straight seasons, which might be the most telling statement about the Bears and head coach Craig Gibson. Any team can have one good year or a couple of good years and then drop back, and we see that all the time on Mercer’s “mid-major” level. But the consistent excellence from Gibson’s Mercer program shows just how good he has been as a head coach and what kind of players the Bears have had.
Just look at this year as the perfect example. Last year’s team won the regular-season conference title and came up just short of a second straight conference tournament title and an NCAA Tournament berth. Kyle Lewis was the nation’s best player last year and became the program’s first-ever first-round draft choice when he was selected by Seattle.
So without him, it’s a little understandable that some folks doubted the Bears. But only a little.
The Bears didn’t like being picked third, and they showed that throughout the conference season. They played with a chip on their shoulder throughout the season, and Mercer was easily the best team in the conference from the start of the season.
And remember, the Bears did win the conference regular-season title in the Southern Conference the previous two seasons, which were their first two seasons in the conference. So there should have been a little bit more respect for the team entering this season, even without Lewis on the roster.
But none of that really mattered as the veteran Bears took care of business and again showed just what this program is: the best in the Southern Conference. In doing so, Mercer’s team showed again how impressive Gibson is as a head coach and just how good his coaching staff (pitching coach Brent Shade and Willie Stewart) is.
Next week, Mercer will head to Greenville, South Carolina, to go after a Southern Conference Tournament title, which would bring with it an NCAA Tournament berth (that would be the program’s fourth, with all of them coming under Gibson).
Mercer’s roster is full of experienced talent with a strong senior class led by Charlie Madden, Ryan Askew, Ryan Hagan, Danny Edgeworth, Matt Meeder and Hunter Bening. That group has kept this team rolling right along this season, but those players will be gone next year, and a new crop of stars will step up to lead this program.
But even without this year’s leaders, Gibson’s track record with recruiting and developing players and building this program says the Bears will be right back in the chase next year. And it doesn’t look like they are slowing down any time soon.