Despite accumulating a school-best 40-win season just two years ago and playing in the Atlantic Sun championship series in 2009, the Mercer Bears softball team simply did not live up to expectations last year. A dismal 25-30 record was not the great follow-up expected in Coach Mike Raynor’s fourth season. He did record his 100th win as Mercer’s coach last season, but that was one of the few highlights in the first campaign without a postseason run since 2005.
Looking to improve on a 7-13 record in conference play last year, the Bears will have to rely on senior pitcher Jenni Holtz for guidance and leadership. The all-time Mercer leader in strikeouts looks to get to 1,000 Ks for her career this season. She currently has 723, and she was third last season in Atlantic Sun with 332 strikeouts. Her current total is a new Mercer single season record. In conjunction with her 17 wins (fourth in the A-Sun), an extra innings no-hitter and eight complete game shutouts, Holtz will aim to make history this season.
While Holtz is vital to the team’s success, Mercer must look for a dependable second pitcher who can back up Holtz. They managed just eight wins outside of Holtz’s total and one of those wins was actually a save by Holtz. However, with every pitcher coming back, the experience gained will be paramount to success.
Offense tended to be the larger issue last season as the Bears were eighth out of 11 teams last year in batting average as a team, hitting just .230.
If experience was the issue, then it’s been fixed somewhat. Sixteen players return from a tough year, as Mercer only lost three seniors to graduation. However, there were no Bears named to the preseason All-Atlantic Sun team and key centerfielder Holly Oglesbee has now graduated.
Despite a losing record last year, Mercer will face an uphill battle all year. The 34 game non-conference schedule includes matchups with powers from the SEC, ACC and Big Ten. Mercer opens the year with a doubleheader against Alcorn State on Feb. 10. The team has asked all fans to wear black for a “Blackout” for this home opener. They follow the home opener with four tournaments on the road at Georgia Southern, Charleston Southern, Kennesaw State and Georgia Tech for the “Buzz Classic”.
With a few home series sprinkled throughout the next two months before conference play against Oakland, Savannah State, Samford and Florida A&M, the Bears have their work cut out for them. They’ll also look to improve their 6-14 record on the road and 7-9 record at a neutral sites.
Mercer was picked eighth in the media’s preseason Atlantic Sun poll. Coach Raynor has looked to improve team chemistry over last year. The seniors have acknowledged that they were affected by the pressure upon them to perform after one of the best seasons in school history. Assistant Coach Kelley Bretscher (a former softball player from 2003 to 2007) told MercerBears.com that they have done mental training sessions to help the seniors lead the team and be cool under pressure. They have also been using sports psychology to improve their presence and feelings at the plate. Hopefully, this will aid the returning seniors and boost their confidence for the upcoming 2011 season.