The Mercer University baseball team received a message Monday it’s been working all of 2013 to hear.
The only private school in Georgia competing as a Division I program, the Bears (43-16, 20-7 in the Atlantic Sun Conference) received the final at-large selection to the NCAA Baseball Division I Championship. On Friday, they will play in a four-team, double-elimination regional played host to by Mississippi State in Starkville, Miss.
Mercer joins Atlantic Coast Conference mainstay Georgia Tech and Savannah State (winners of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Tournament) as the only Georgia schools in the field of 64 teams.
Mercer steadily gained national attention with its play, culminating in a selection as one of the top 25 teams in the country by the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll (No. 23) and Baseball America (No. 25). The ranking was the first in the program’s history and came shortly after the team captured the Atlantic Sun Conference’s regular-season title, another first in the program’s history.
Although he has only suited up for the Bears for two seasons, senior left fielder Logan Gaines is a key member of the team.
A graduate of Westside High School, Gaines has given the Bears a little bit of everything since transferring from South Georgia College. The right-hander has played every spot in the outfield, and third base and second base. Gaines also has come up big at the plate, batting .286 – including .295 as the cleanup hitter in the Bears’ past 11 games.
Gaines’ play has earned respect from coach Craig Gibson.
“Logan? Special guy – I love him,” Gibson said. “He’s a very quiet guy, humble and hard-working talent. He can probably do as much on the field as any guy we have ... he can throw, hit, bunt, very athletic, can really catch and throw. He came from a successful program in South Georgia College and brought that winning attitude to Mercer.”
Just three months earlier, Gaines was wondering what his role would be on the team. Considered the fourth-best outfielder on the squad, Gaines said he experienced a crisis in confidence.
“I was a big hitter last year (11 home runs, sixth in the conference), but I was put on the bench at the start of my senior year,” Gaines said. “It was a humbling experience – I had to check myself.”
Gibson said Gaines’ playing time was limited because of a numbers crunch.
“Logan always worked – he never gave in,” Gibson said. “We just had a battle (for positions) in the outfield. He was good, but (left fielder Nate Moorhouse) was just a little better. To Gaines’ credit, he kept working and working and winners find their way in.”
Gaines said being out of the starting lineup affected his mood.
“I put a lot of pressure on myself to perform,” Gaines said. “Add the stress of trying to graduate, I couldn’t hit a ball to save my life.”
Gaines credited a heart-to-heart conversation with his mother, Darlene, with providing him the proper perspective.
“She told me that I was good enough and didn’t have to place such high expectations on myself,” Gaines said. “She told me to keep (my baseball expectations) simple and that God would help with the rest of it.”
Gaines said the team knows it is good enough to beat the best teams but needed to learn how to win more of their conference games.
“Last year, we didn’t have the experience that we do now – we couldn’t get over the hump,” he said. “This year, we are a stronger team defensively, the chemistry and talent have come together ... we have learned how to piece together wins.”
Gibson, the Atlantic Sun Coach of the Year, said his squad is ready for whatever challenges await.
“We’ve got the (team) goals in sight and we’re going to get it,” he said.