Mercer baseball ready to take next step

Charlie Madden and the many young Mercer baseball players got their first taste of the NCAA tournament this weekend, and they will be looking for more next season.

After all, the program’s departing senior class set the bar high for the players to follow.

The Bears reached the NCAA tournament for the third time in six years as they finished with a 36-25 record. But Mercer lost both of its games in the Tallahassee Regional -- one-run setbacks to Florida State and Auburn -- and is now 1-6 in the tournament.

“We’re excited. It’s hard to think about it already,” said Madden, a sophomore catcher who had five hits in the regional. “We’re just glad for this year for the seniors of what we were able to accomplish. We learned a lot from them. Even just catching, and a lot of them being pitchers, it leaves a great legacy, and I learned a lot from them.

“It lets us know what we expect from ourselves and the incoming freshmen. We’ve been here now. We understand what it’s like, and we want to come back even more.”

Mercer’s nine seniors -- seven of them pitchers -- helped lead the program to a historic season. In their first year in the Southern Conference, the Bears won the regular-season and conference tournament titles, marking the first time the program has pulled off that double.

The eight four-year seniors on the roster were part of two trips to the NCAA tournament.

Second baseman Devin Bonin, who played two years with the program, and designated hitter Nate Moorhouse were the only two seniors in the lineup, while the pitching staff was filled with seniors. Eric Nyquist led the starters, while Grant Papelian and DJ Johnson were both solid in the rotation. The bullpen featured Morgan Pittman, Ben Lumsden, Mitchell Wade and Dimitri Kourtis.

“(He) has been phenomenal for four years, and the other eight guys have been great,” head coach Craig Gibson said, pointing to Pittman after the team’s loss to Auburn. “Their legacy at our place is one of the winningest teams in school history and two regionals. They have beaten everyone from Miami to Mississippi, and they have won a bunch of big games for the next group to try to match.”