Preseason training for the Mercer baseball team has begun, and the team is determined to have yet another successful season. The season kicks off on Friday, Feb. 14 as the Black and Orange host High Point University at Claude Smith Field.
A fter a disappointing loss in the NCA A tournament to Central Arkansas to end the 2013 season, the Bears have been training diligently and are coming back with a strong veteran team in hopes to win the Atlantic Sun Conference Championship and make a postseason run.
“To prepare for the season ahead, the team has worked hard in the weight room and on the field. We realize that we could have a great team and a great season so each of us strives to be the best we can be,” said junior third baseman, Chesny Young.
The team’s rigorous offseason training schedule included lifting three days a week, 6 a.m. conditioning, as well as a five-week team practice schedule that was highlighted by three weekend intersquad games at the end of each week.
Four players were named to the Atlantic Sun All Conference team in 2013 and will be returning this season to compete. Joining Young, senior outfielder Derrick Workman, senior designated hitter Nick Backlund and junior relief pitcher Dimitri Kourtis were all voted to the team for their outstanding performances in 2013 and are expected to contribute significantly this season as well.
Workman has had a large impact on the team for the past three seasons, and is expected to finish his collegiate baseball career breaking the all-time Mercer career record of 264 hits set by Tim Smith in 1980-1983. He is just 44 hits shy of this feat.
When asked about the possibility of breaking this record, Workman said he was unaware that he was even close to this accomplishment. He also went on to say that he simply plays for the team, and that records aren’t something that he chases.
“I try to give my all for the guy next to me. One pitch at a time, one inning at a time, one game at a time. I’ll continue this approach for our upcoming season and I’ll give this school and our team everything I have,” said Workman.
Workman finished last season ranked in the top-10 in the A-Sun in almost every statistical category including on-base percentage, slugging percentage, walks, total bases, RBI and doubles. He was also voted onto the A-Sun All Conference team for his remarkable efforts on the field and in the classroom.
Finishing last season with a .401 batting average, Young led the A-Sun Conference and finished sixth in the nation as well as becoming the sixth player in Mercer program history to hit over .400 in a single season. Young has already been named a Louisville Slugger Preseason Third Team All-American as well as a National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association Preseason Third Team All-American. He is currently riding a 30-game hitting streak which is just 11 games shy of breaking into the top-10 longest hitting streaks in NCAA Division I history.
Young has proven to be one of the top players in all of college baseball, and his teammates are confident that his success will have a tremendous effect on the outcome of this season.
“[Young] is the guy we want up in the most pressure packed and clutch game situations. His numbers and body of work speaks for itself,” said Workman.
After already being named a National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association Preseason First Team All-American, Backlund has proven to be one of the most consistent and threatening slugger in the nation. The San Jose, Calif. native finished the 2013 season hitting .326 while leading the A-Sun with a .579 slugging percentage, 22 doubles, 13 home runs and 68 RBI.
“[Backlund] is one of the most powerful and potent hitters at our level in the game right now. Without him and Chesny [Young], our team would not be what it is today,” said Workman.
Although this year’s squad has quite a few talented hitters on the roster, the unexpected loss of senior pitcher DJ Johnson due to ineligibility this season is going to put pressure on some of the younger pitchers. Senior outfielder Sasha LaGarde says that the team is certain they can depend on Kourtis along with senior Brandon Barker, but other experienced junior pitchers will need to step up and perform well for the team to be successful.
Last season, Kourtis was featured primarily as the Bears’ closer and developed into one of the most dominant and efficient relievers in the A-Sun while Barker tied for first in the A-Sun with 17 games started and a 7-2 record. Barker was also named to the A-Sun All Conference second team.
Other notable players on the roster this season include LaGarde, senior second baseman Michael Massi, senior catcher Austin Barrett, and senior outfielder Nate Moorhouse.
LaGarde, a Montreal native, led the A-Sun last season with 68 runs while Massi tied for second in the A-Sun with 21 stolen bases. Barrett’s ability to excel in various positions will help the team while Moorhouse, according to LaGarde, “will definitely be an impact player as he brings a great package of speed and athleticism.”
The Bears will host 30 home games along with playing in 18 contests against teams that finished last season ranked in the RPI top 100, including a weekend series at Auburn and a mid-week trip to Gainesville to take on Florida University.
“Our number one goal is to defend our A-Sun championship. Not only do we want to make the NCAA tournament again, but we want to do some damage,” said Workman. “We know what we are capable of and we want to be nothing short of remarkable.”