MACON, Ga. (MERCER RELEASE) – The Mercer baseball team secured a league-high five Preseason All-Conference selections and, for the second time in as many years, was picked to finish first in the 2014 Atlantic Sun Conference Preseason Coaches' poll released on Wednesday afternoon.
Mercer also secured two out of the three conference specialty awards as junior Chesny Young was named the A-Sun Conference Preseason Player of the Year while senior Michael Massi was voted the A-Sun Conference Preseason Defensive Player of the Year.
The Bears received seven first-place votes and topped the A-Sun Preseason Coaches' poll with 97 points followed by North Florida who placed second in the poll with 86 points and one first-place vote. FGCU received two first-place votes and came in third with 73 points followed in order by ETSU, Kennesaw State, Stetson, Lipscomb, USC Upstate, Jacksonville and Northern Kentucky.
"We are pleased that we were picked first in the preseason poll, but as evidenced last year it's not about how you start its how you finish and we feel like we have some unfinished business after the way last season ended," head coach Craig Gibson said. "I am very happy about the well-deserved recognition our players received as well, however, once February 14 rolls around the slate is wiped clean and we need to prove ourselves once again in order to achieve all our goals."
Young and Massi were joined on the A-Sun Preseason All-Conference team by seniors Nick Backlund and Brandon Barker and junior Dimitri Kourtis.
This is the third significant preseason honor Young has picked up prior to the 2014 season as he has already been named a Louisville Slugger Preseason Third Team All-American and a National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association Preseason Third Team All-American. The Atlanta, Ga. native had a breakout sophomore campaign last season during which he led the A-Sun Conference and finished sixth in the nation with a .401 batting average. Young broke the Mercer single-season record and finished second in the country with 105 hits on his way to being named the 2013 A-Sun Conference Player of the Year.
Massi won the starting second baseman job in his first season in Macon and hit .273 with 41 runs scored, nine doubles, two home runs, 29 RBI and finished 78th in the nation with 21 stolen bases last season. The Powder Springs, Ga. product fielded .989 on the year, committed just three errors out of 262 total chances and finished ninth in the A-Sun with 154 assists from his second base position.
Backlund joined Young as one of only three players to earn unanimous selections to the Preseason All-Conference team. The San Jose, Calif. native has already secured a National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association Preseason First Team All-American selection after hitting .326 last while leading the A-Sun Conference with a .579 slugging percentage, 22 doubles, 13 home runs and 68 RBI last season. Backlund, who was named a 2013 A-Sun All-Conference first team selection, enters 2014 as the A-Sun Conference Active Career Leader with 29 home runs.
Barker stepped into the Friday night starter role and developed into the unquestioned ace of the Bears pitching staff last season. The Woodstock, Ga. native tied for first in the A-Sun Conference with 17 games started and compiled a sparkling 7-2 record in a career-best 84.2 innings pitched. Barker finished third in the A-Sun with 79 strikeouts and sixth with a 2.66 ERA on his way to being named the 2013 A-Sun Conference Scholar-Athlete of the Year and voted onto the A-Sun All-Conference second team.
Kourtis developed into one of the most dominant and efficient relievers in the A-Sun Conference last season and will be counted on to shut the door on opponents again this season as well. The Alpharetta, Ga. product assembled a 5-3 record with a 2.94 ERA while leading the A-Sun Conference and ranking 66th in the nation with nine saves. Kourtis struck out 60 batters and didn't allow a single home run in 67.1 innings pitched on his way to being named a 2013 A-Sun All-Conference first team selection.
Mercer kicks off its 2014 season at home on Friday, February 14 with a three-game series against Big South member High Point. First pitch is scheduled for 4 p.m. at Claude Smith Field.