Follow It Up

Mercer coach Craig Gibson was excited Monday to talk about his team’s surprising series sweep at Miami. The Bears won two games against the Hurricanes, who had entered the series ranked second, and the third game was rained out (perhaps you saw Sunday during a certain football game that it rained a lot in Miami).

But Gibson doesn’t want his team to get too excited; it’s got another tough road series coming up this weekend against Bethune-Cookman, which has won the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference every year but once since 1999. The fact that Mercer’s best players are both fifth-year seniors–righthander Brantley New and catcher Josh Thompson–should help keep the team from getting too excited over its big opening weekend.

“I was an assistant my first year here, and we redshirted those two guys,” said Gibson, now in his fourth year as head coach. “We’re very fortunate that Brantley came back (he was drafted by the Red Sox in the 27th round) for his fifth year, and I think it says a lot about him and the program that he came back. He gives us a chance every Friday night. Josh is another fifth-year guy who is a graduate student and hits in our four-hole, plays catcher, plays a little outfield and gives us a middle-of-the-order presence.

“I thought we’d compete because of our experience. I knew we had 20 upperclassmen, and Miami has 23 freshmen and sophomores. Miami will be a good club; we caught them at the right time.”

What Gibson didn’t mention is that Mercer should be a good club too. The Bears have improved their wins total every season under Gibson, from 20 to 28 to 34 victories. To make this their best season since 1999, when they won 36 games, they have to put the Miami series win behind them and have a strong weekend against Bethune-Cookman, then carry that success over into the Atlantic Sun Conference season.

“Our league is in transition right now–we talk about that as a staff,” Gibson said. “We talk about how now is our chance to get better, to make that jump. The first jump was to be competitive; the next one is to compete for a regional every year. That second jump is a lot tougher.”