By Gabe Whisnant
Published in Sports on April 26, 2004 1:56 PM
SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- Mount Olive's Carolinas-Virginia Athletic Conference championship game with top-seed Pfeiffer ended exactly the way it started -- with the ball in right-hander Ricky Duke's hands.
Duke picked up a slow roller near the first baseline and tossed to Matt Rickard at first to retire the CVAC's regular-season MVP Jeff Robbins for the final out of the Trojans' 10-6 championship victory -- securing Mount Olive's sixth conference tournament title under 18-year head coach Carl Lancaster.
Duke (11-1), who went the distance, picked up his second win in two starts during the tournament and was named the tourney MVP in a ceremony following the game. Mount Olive catcher Craig Hurba, second baseman Allen Thomas and pitcher's Matt Rusch and Weston Curles were all selected first-team all-tournament.
The win over the Falcons (40-12), the top ranked team in the South Atlantic Region, along with the four-game sweep in the tourney puts the Trojans (37-15) in prime position to return to the Division II regional for the first time since 2000.
"This is probably the sweetest, because we haven't had one in a few years. I told them before we started that the cream will come to the top," Lancaster said. "If we don't make it this year, it's time for us to quit trying.
"We've got the numbers, we've won the conference championship. I've got to think we are in."
Two more regional polls and national polls will come out between now and the beginning of the Division II regional. Bids should be released in early May. Mount Olive is currently ranked 19th nationally and fourth in the South Atlantic region.
Sunday's win continued an impressive pattern by the Trojans, who got key contributions from literally everyone in the lineup to go with hard-nosed defense and durable pitching.
Mount Olive fell behind 3-0 after two innings and went hitless against first-team all-CVAC pitcher Chris Nall. After that, each player in the Trojans' order recorded a hit in the third and fourth innings combined as Mount Olive charged ahead 7-3.
Stephen Nordan capped the two-inning rally with a two-run, opposite-field home run to left off Nall. The bottom half of the order -- Nick Paniccia, Kevin Daniels, Matt Johnson and T.J. Fly -- went a combined 8-for-14 in the game, drove in four runs and scored six times. Paniccia, Daniels and Fly stole one base each as Mount Olive continuously pressured the Falcon defense, who committed three costly infield errors.
"We've got some guys who played with a lot of heart this weekend. We were making some things happen," Lancaster said. "Thankfully, we got the ball on the ground in those situations, and when you've got guys moving like that, you don't want to hit it in the air."
Johnson's RBI single in the fifth scored Daniels and put the Trojans up 8-3, but Pfeiffer fought back in the sixth and seventh to cut the lead to 8-6. The Falcons' Robert Scott slugged a two-run homer to left off of Duke in the sixth with no outs, but Duke dug in and retired the next three batters to squash the rally.
In the seventh, Bryant Parnell, who homered in the third, added an RBI single to pull Pfeiffer to within two. Duke allowed two more hits in the final two innings, but no Falcons reached scoring position.
"I probably only made about six bad pitches, but when I made mistakes, they hit them," Duke said. "But I know I had good defense behind me. I just tried to stick with the game plan É stay away at the knees."
Mount Olive tacked on two insurance runs in the seventh to push the lead to its final margin at 10-6. A throwing error by the Pfeiffer catcher scored Paniccia, who had walked, while Fly provided an RBI single to score Daniels -- who reached on an error by the first baseman.
"We just try to get on base for the front of our lineup. They've come through for us all year, along with our pitching and defense," Fly said. "We just try to get on base anyway we can for them, and fortunately we came up big.
"We all get along together and finally our defense, pitching defense came together. It came together at the perfect time."
2004 Carolinas-Virginia Athletic Conference all-Tournament Team
Erskine - Anthony Passalaqua;
St. Andrews - Brad Smith; Pfeiffer - Chris Nall, Jason Goodwin, Robert Scott; Mount Olive - Craig Hurba, Allen Thomas, Weston Curles, Matt Rusch. MVP - Ricky Duke, Mount Olive.
2004 Carolinas-Virginia Athletic Conference Tournament Championship
(at Duncan Park,
Pfeiffer 102 002 100 -- 6 10 3
Mount Olive 005 210 20x -- 10 15 1
Leading hitters - Pfeiffer - Brian York 4-4, 2 runs; Bryant Parnell 2-5, HR, 3 RBI; Robert Scott 2-4, HR, 3 RBI. Mount Olive - Allen Thomas 2-5, RBI, run; Stephen Nordan 2-4, HR, 3 RBI, 2 runs; Nick Paniccia 1-3, 2 RBI, run; Kevin Daniels 3-4, 2B, 3 runs; Matt Johnson 2-4, RBI, run; T.J. Fly 2-3, RBI, run.
E - Greene, Scott, Little, Thomas. DP - Pfeiffer 2. LOB - Pfeiffer 7, Mount Olive 7. SH - Fly. SB - Paniccia; Daniels; Fly.
IP H R ER BB SO
Chris Hall (L) 4 10 7 5 1 3
Jason Goodwin 2 3 1 1 0 0
Josh Shelton 1 2 2 0 1 1
Brian York 1 0 0 0 0 3
Ricky Duke (W, 11-1) 9 10 6 6 3 4
WP - Goodwin. HBP - by Shelton (Nordan).
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