Charlie Madden has the perfect vantage point to watch Eric Nyquist do his job on the mound.
And Madden enjoys every minute of it.
Madden, Mercer’s sophomore catcher, and the Bears are headed to the Tallahassee Regional of the NCAA baseball tournament this weekend, and Nyquist has played a big role in getting the team there.
The senior is 9-2 with a 3.22 ERA in 86-2/3 innings of work. He has made 15 starts in 18 appearances and has three complete games, including two shutouts.
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“It’s fun; it makes my job a lot easier,” Madden said of working with Nyquist. “I just kind of put my glove there, and he hits it. It makes it easy on me. It’s fun to just sit there and almost watch him pitch because I don’t have to do a whole lot.”
That was especially true Sunday when Nyquist had his second complete-game shutout of the season. That performance came on a big stage as the Bears beat Samford 5-0 to win the championship in their first trip to the Southern Conference tournament.
“You know every time Eric is going to go out there that he’s going to battle for you and we’re going to be in the game,” sophomore center fielder Kyle Lewis said. “That’s big for us because he’s our go-to guy, and you need that as a team.”
Nyquist got plenty of help from his teammates Sunday, and he was quick to praise the play of his defense. Freshman right fielder Trey Truitt made a terrific catch against the wall in the first inning, and the infield turned key double plays in the sixth and seventh.
“All I wanted to do was to go out there and compete,” Nyquist said. “The guys had my back and made great plays behind me. (Samford was) hitting the ball hard the whole day, and they’re a good hitting team, but the guys were right there. Some of it was just luck, but we wanted to just go compete.”
Pitching coach Brent Shade never has any doubts his ace is going to compete. Shade said he knew the Bears were in good shape Sunday when Nyquist told him he felt good in the pregame bullpen session.
“He really works hard in the weight room and is well-conditioned,” Shade said. “At the end of the year, a lot of guys lose a little steam on their fastball, but he’s probably one of the hardest workers I’ve ever had in the weight room, and he stays strong because of that. Our defense was on and made a couple of plays; that great play in right field set the tone. We could have been down 2-0 just like that.
“But the guys wanted him to have the ball, and when it was 5-0, the game was over in my mind.”
That confidence is well-placed in Nyquist. He went 5-1 against Southern Conference teams during the regular season and then had two strong outings in the conference tournament, earning MVP honors.
“He has been on some big stages,” Mercer head coach Craig Gibson said. “He’s our Friday night guy, and he’s going to be a great draft pick. He sets the table for us. You just feel good when you have the best guy on the mound.”
Gibson will be happy to see Nyquist on the mound again this weekend. The Bears face host Florida State at 6 p.m. on Friday after Auburn meets College of Charleston at noon.
Gibson said he’s not sure if Nyquist will start Friday or Saturday after Sunday’s long outing. But whenever Nyquist pitches, Mercer will feel good about its chances.
The Bears are 12-3 in games he has started.
“It’s surreal,” Nyquist said of his second trip to the NCAA tournament and the program’s third since 2010. “I wanted to leave this season with no regrets and do the best I could and work hard to make that happen. It’s amazing.”