Mercer ready for ‘new’ season

Mercer begins its third portion of the softball season today.

In the first part, the healthy Bears went 14-7, not far off of last season’s 40-19 pace.

In the second part, the banged-up Bears stumbled to the opposite, a 7-14 record.

And now, at 21-21 and healthy again, head coach Mike Raynor hopes his team is ready for a run.

“If you look at us on paper one way, you say, ‘what (is) going on?’ ” Raynor said. “You look at us on paper the other way, you say, ‘OK, this makes sense.’ ”

Mercer was 14-7, and within a short period of time leadoff batter Anna Johnson and pitcher Kari Chambers got hurt. Chambers took a line drive to the shin on a cold-weather day, and Johnson was hit on the left wrist in batting practice.

“We didn’t know it was broken for two weeks, so we lost that healing time,” Raynor said of Johnson’s injury. “You could not see the break in the X-ray.”

An MRI uncovered the break, leading to three more weeks on the side for the A-Sun’s No. 3 base-stealer and top-20 hitter (.327).

“The pitcher’s back and my leadoff batter’s back effective (Monday),” Raynor said. “They’re back, and (pitcher Jenni) Holtz is on fire. I’m looking for a real strong finish.”

Holtz knows what having both back means, especially Johnson.

“Anna does add a lot of spark and intensity on our team,” Holtz said. “I’m really glad to have her back. She adds a lot of speed to our team.”

The Bears have some momentum from handing Lipscomb its first conference defeat of the year, 3-1 on Friday. The Bears then split on Saturday with last-place Belmont.

Today, Auburn visits, and the Bears have had success against the Tigers (22-17), winning three of four, including two last year in Auburn.

“Auburn was a pivotal turning point for us last year,” Raynor said. “They had just gotten back from the West Coast, they were 17-4. We took both ballgames from them over there last year, and we caught on fire because everybody realized, ‘hey, we’ve got a pretty good team.’ ”

Chambers returned and had a solid outing in the Lipscomb win, and Johnson was cleared on Monday and will be back atop the lineup today.

“I want (today) to be another one of those pivotal points where we play well and catch on fire the rest of April and the first of May with a ton of confidence,” Raynor said. “All we have to do is make it in the tournament and stay alive.”

Honor roll

Mercer third baseman Jacob Tanis has earned his second A-Sun player of the week in less than a month.

Tanis is one fire, having gone 11-for-23 in five games last week, belting three home runs in the weekend series against Stetson and three in the 15-4 win over Savannah State on Tuesday.

Tanis, who was 3-for-6 with four RBI and a double in Monday’s 13-4 win over Florida A&M, is atop the A-Sun with 43 runs, 59 RBI, 16 homers and 118 total bases and is 20th with a .364 average.

Mercer hosts Georgia State at 6 p.m. today.

n Four players from second-ranked Georgia College & State were named to the Peach Belt’s all-conference golf team, led by player of the year Francisco Bide.

He was joined by Niclas Johansson and Joe Young on the first team and Billy Shida on the second team.

Bide is second in the conference with a 72.5-stroke average and two top-5 finishes.

Young, a Bleckley County grad, led the PBC with a 72.3 and three top-5 finishes, including a win in the Matlock Collegiate Classic in February.

n The Fort Valley State men’s tennis team, thanks in part to a 6-0 mark in the SIAC tennis crossover, won the SIAC regular-season championship for the second straight year.

The Wildcats will get a first-round bye in the conference tournament, which starts Wednesday at Morehouse.

n GCSU’s tennis teams both are ranked in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association’s National and Southeast Regional rankings.

The Bobcats men (13-5, 5-3 PBC) fell from No. 11 to No. 14 in the national poll, while the Bobcats women (8-9, 4-6 PBC) jumped one spot to No. 30.

In the Southeast, the men slipped from third to fifth, while the women held on to the seventh position.