MACON, Ga. – Taking one game in Jacksonville secured Mercer its first return bid to the Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament since 1999.
"This has been our goal since day one of the season, to get back into the conference tournament," head coach Craig Gibson said. "We have done our best to play a balanced schedule to give our guys the chance to play in a lot of different environments and to be ready for the postseason. I'd like for us to finish strong and head to the tournament playing well."
Mercer (30-23, 17-10 A-Sun) also tallied its first 30-win season since that 1999 tournament team.
With the exception of a select few scenarios, the Bears have locked down a second seed for the tournament. That second seed would be an impressive turnaround for a team that was picked to finish anywhere from eighth to 10th in various preseason polls.
"We felt like this was a team that could compete at a very high level," Gibson said. "The early press that picked us in the bottom third of the conference really helped us get motivated to prove some people wrong. We are passed that now. We did what we needed to do between the lines to this point; we need to keep it up in Deland."
The Bears have gotten contributions from nearly everyone on the roster but the middle of the line-up has been a big part of their success.
Shawn Barrett has settled nicely into the third spot in the order, batting .363 this season and .390 in A-Sun play, getting on base at an incredible .445 clip, setting the table for the two guys behind him.
Josh Thompson leads the A-Sun with 14 homers and has a team high 44 RBIs. Thompson also leads the team in walks with 33, setting the table once again for Mike Armstrong. Armstrong leads Mercer with a .380 batting average, fifth best in the league.
Armstrong is batting .500 against left-handed pitching, going 25 for 50 this season after the weekend series at Jacksonville.
On the mound, the Bears have relied on a variety of pitchers in their weekend rotation, but Brantley New has settled in as the ace of the staff. New, taking the ball on Friday nights racked up a team-high eight wins, third best in the A-Sun.
Blake Quarles has pitched his way into the weekend, going 4-2 in 12 starts. J.C. Daugherty pitched well for the Bears at Jacksonville in his fifth start of the season.
Hunter Abercrombie picked up the Bears only win against the Dolphins in an emergency relief appearance, pitching out of a second and third, no-out jam in the bottom of the ninth inning.
The goal for the Bears all season has been to get the ball to closer Andrew Urena with a lead, and Urena has been nearly flawless. He has recorded an A-Sun best 14 saves, earned three wins and has allowed just four earned runs in 41.2 innings. Mercer is a perfect 26-0 this season when leading after eight innings.
Mercer wraps up its 2006 regular season with a three-game series against Belmont on Thursday and Friday at Claude Smith Field. The Bears will honor their seniors in a pre-game ceremony before Thursday's start. The series will conclude with a doubleheader at on Friday.