Chemistry can be a hard thing for a baseball team to figure out, and it’s definitely difficult to quantify for a team’s success.
But the Mercer Bears pointed to their chemistry as a key to this year’s success.
An experienced pitching staff featuring seven seniors and a young lineup came together to earn the Bears’ third NCAA tournament berth in the past six years. On Monday, the Bears were placed in the Tallahassee Regional as the fourth seed.
Mercer will face Florida State at 6 p.m. on Friday. The other two teams in the regional are Auburn and College of Charleston. The winner of the regional advances to the super regional round.
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“I came into the year knowing that we were going to be good on the mound, but I wasn’t sure about our hitting because they were so young, but they have come together,” senior pitcher Eric Nyquist said. “And it’s not about older or younger guys. It’s one team, and we all play together.
“You can have all the talent you want, but when you have guys playing individual baseball, it just doesn’t work that way. This is the most individualized team game, but there is so much stuff that happens on the road and in the locker room that you have to build each other up and play together.”
The Bears certainly have done that. With a lineup that features only two seniors, along with seven freshmen or sophomores, Mercer got off to a slow start at 11-11.
But it responded in its first season in the Southern Conference and won both the regular-season and tournament titles, the first time Mercer has accomplished that. The Bears earned the regional berth by sweeping through the Southern Conference tournament with a 4-0 record, outscoring their opponents 32-10. They finished off the week with a 5-0 win over Samford on Sunday for the program’s fifth conference tournament championship.
“It’s really exciting,” Mercer head coach Craig Gibson said. “It’s probably the most rewarding job that we have done as a staff. With all the new position guys, they have gotten better, and the pitching staff has done a great job.
“To be where we are right now is special.”
Mercer went to Georgia Tech for the 2010 regional and Mississippi State for the 2013 regional. The Bears are 1-4 in their two regional appearances.
“You can feel the sense of calm from the seniors,” sophomore Kyle Lewis said. “They’re not overwhelmed by the environment, and that’s going to be big for the younger guys and help us realize it’s just baseball and let’s go play.”