05/11/04 — MOC snubbed by NCAA

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MOC snubbed by NCAA

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on May 11, 2004 1:59 PM

MOUNT OLIVE -- Snubbed ... again.

Two weeks of waiting ended in agonizing fashion for the Mount Olive College baseball team early Monday morning. Again, for the third time in the last five years, the Trojans were locked out of the NCAA Division II South Atlantic Regional.

Although nearly every criteria supposedly scrutinized by the regional committee favored Mount Olive, the six-member panel awarded the third seed to Columbus State (Ga.) University. North Florida received the No. 1 seed, followed by CVAC regular-season champ Pfeiffer University and Augusta State (Ga.) University, which is seeded fourth.

"I'm disappointed for the guys because they knew what they needed to do," veteran Trojans coach Carl Lancaster said. "I'm frustrated for the program because we felt like we've done our job this past recruiting season to put a team on the field that was capable of competing in the regional.

"I know we were."

Mount Olive captured the CVAC tournament championship and finished unbeaten in four outings. Lancaster's team throttled top-seeded Pfeiffer 10-6 in the final.

The Trojans finished 5-2 in their final seven games and maintained a No. 4 ranking in the South Atlantic regional poll for several weeks.

"We felt like at the end of the game with Erskine that we had a shot depending upon what Columbus did the next weekend with Georgia College," Lancaster said. "When we won the tournament, we felt like that was the final nail in the coffin.

"We were second in the regular season and we won our tournament. How could you deny us?"

Mount Olive remained fourth in the next two regional polls. The team's confidence level began to increase as they realized that an NCAA bid was just within their grasp.

Or was it?

Last week, the Trojans dipped to No. 5 in the regional poll. Columbus State had leap-frogged into third and bumped Augusta State into fourth. The very foundation of Mount Olive's postseason hopes had started to crack.

How would that slight, but dynamic change, affect the Trojans?

"It went through my mind that Columbus had obviously beaten Georgia College twice," Lancaster said. "We had given up eight runs in three games against them (GC) and were two fly balls away from sweeping them.

"The committee looks at won-loss (record) and not what actually happened in that series. I knew that was crucial, but then when I look at their (Columbus State's) schedule and see they played all those NAIA schools, you get very frustrated."

The Trojans' foundation continued to crumble despite the fact they played the CVAC's toughest schedule. Lancaster tweaked the schedule in the offseason to accommodate Peach Belt teams North Florida, Augusta State, Francis Marion and Georgia College. This change occurred after a committee member informed him that a weak schedule would garner very little consideration.

Mount Olive finished 37-15 overall and fashioned a solid record against their regionally-ranked foes. They were 2-2 against Pfeiffer, 1-1 against North Florida and 0-1 vs. Augusta State. There was no head-to-head meeting with Columbus.

The criteria, theoretically, favored the Trojans.

They had a better power rating index (PRI) -- 5.596 to 5.291. They were 17-7 in the regular season, while Columbus was 24-17. Mount Olive's record against Division II teams with a winning percentage of .500 or higher was 20-11 compared to 24-17.

The Trojans had a slightly-poorer record against teams under NCAA tournament consideration, but were 10-6 against in-region teams compared to 3-1 for Columbus.

Those criteria, by a 3-2 count, proved the Trojans should have been a top-four seed.

"It appears that the Peach Belt 'Lords that be' have spoken again," Lancaster said. "They have got the attitude that they know if they have a conference tournament, then that could very likely eliminate someone. The regional is their conference tournament in their minds.

"We are just a stepchild. We (the Peach Belt) will occasionally invite one of them if they have an absolutely phenomenal season. If nobody does, we'll just have our own tournament with the four of us."

Lancaster called the two CVAC representatives on the regional committee. Both were pleased with Mount Olive's success and felt the Trojans would receive a bid.

However, the selection committee felt otherwise. They denied the Trojans a bid and kept them out of postseason play for the fourth straight year.

Lancaster proposed that the CVAC move into another regional, perhaps with the northern schools, so it will be on more competitive ground -- especially financially. Lancaster has just 3 1/2 scholarships to use compared to nine for Peach Belt schools.

The Peach Belt's attitude is that CVAC programs can not match up to their programs. Lancaster added that the Peach Belt shouldn't compare the CVAC as a whole, but take into consideration how his Trojans did between the lines against Peach Belt teams this season.

"If that is their attitude, get us out of it," Lancaster said. "Give us a (fair) chance of going to the postseason and possibly the World Series. We can compete with those teams up there that's got comparable money like we do on an every day basis.

"We can compete with those (Peach Belt) guys."

Players turned in their uniforms throughout the day Monday. Lancaster met with each one individually, but had not conducted a team meeting.

Allen Thomas, Jonathan Pullen, Alan Fricks, Steve Wesley, T.J. Fly, Michael Erexson and Craig Hurba -- all seniors -- leave with a CVAC title in hand. However, they also depart with bittersweet memories of a senior season that could have ended with a trip to the World Series.

"Our league has no respect -- none whatsoever," Lancaster said. "The only thing I can do is clean up, pack up the uniforms and say 'guys, you've had a good year.'

"But they didn't feel like you were good enough or deserving to go to their little tournament."