Mercer head baseball coach Craig Gibson is in his ninth year as the Bears’ skipper. Throughout his time at the helm, the Bears have a 239-212 record, including the 2010 Atlantic Sun Conference Championship, as well as wins against then No. 1 Florida and No. 1 Clemson in back-to-back weeks in 2006. In 2011, Mercer lost in the A-Sun finals to the Belmont Bruins.
Craig Gibson began his career as a player for Mercer. During his junior season, Gibson earned Atlantic Sun Player of the Year. That same season, Mercer won the Atlantic Sun Championship. After graduating, Gibson served as a graduate assistant coach under then-head-coach Barry Myers for two years. He then went on to become the head coach at Jupiter Community High School in Jupiter, Fla. before moving to Suncoast Community High School in Riviera Beach, Fla. two years later.
In 1993, Gibson, who was coaching Palm Beach Gardens High School in Palm Beach, Fla. was invited to become a full-time assistant coach under Myers back at Mercer. When Myers resigned in 2004, Gibson was promoted to the vacant coaching position.
Coach Gibson sat down with The Cluster to share some thoughts on his career and experiences.
The Cluster: The majority of your roster consists of players from the state of Georgia. How important is hometown recruiting to your program?
Coach Gibson: Quality of amateur baseball in Georgia is very high. We try to get in to the Atlanta market, but also we’ll go down to South Georgia. Mercer is special. We’re looking for those guys who can excel academically as well as on the field. The HOPE scholarship, the Georgia Equalization Grant and Mercer’s academic scholarships all help.
C: There are a lot of young players on your team. How does this relate to your record this season (24-16, 7-9)?
G: Well, we have 18 new guys. My goal for us was to not bottom out this year and to maintain the course. We let some get away, and that’s due to the immaturity of not knowing what it takes to win in conference play. We’ve had to deal with some distractions this year that I hadn’t had to deal with lately (due to fifth year guys on the team last year), so I’m a lot more involved in off-field activities than I have been in the past.
C: With the season coming to an end, what is your mindset heading into the home stretch?
G: Championship goes through Florida, still, regardless of their records. We are just taking it one game at a time, as they all mean the same, all of them are important. It was huge to beat Belmont, as they lead the league in pitching and hitting. We put together some good at-bats and Travis Benn homered. Morgan Pittman is finally starting to be the guy we thought he’d be when we drafted him (Pittman threw five hit-less innings against Belmont in the Saturday game), and he’s going to be good.
C: With such a young team, what were some of your goals for this season?
G: My goal is always to make the conference tournament, and for baseball it’s a little different. Only the top six teams make it into the tournament. Next year the field is expanding to 10. For me, if we don’t make it to the tournament, the season is a failure; we can beat Georgia Tech, Mississippi State, but if we don’t make it to the tournament it’s not a successful season. In our conference, once you’re in the tournament anyone can win. Usually the team who plays the best the last four weeks of the season can ride that momentum into the tournament and can win. And we’re playing good right now.
C: Wild-Card Question: If you had to pick who was going to make it to the MLB World Series, even though we’re only 11 games into the season, who would you pick?
G: I’m going with the Tigers because my son plays for their organization from the American League, and from the National League I’ll say…the Dodgers. So next year when you’re at Clemson, if the Dodgers and the Tigers are in the World Series, you better remember that I called it!
C: And how about for the College World Series of Baseball?
G: (Does the Gator chomp with his hands) Florida. They have 15 guys who can throw 97-98 miles per hour.
The Bears are currently in the middle of a nine-game road trip before finishing the season on a nine-game homestand. That includes a three-game series against the University of North Florida, who has the same conference record as Mercer. They also meet against the USC Upstate Trojans and a mid-week