05/17/06 — Mount Olive carries balanced pitching staff into South Atlantic Regional

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Mount Olive carries balanced pitching staff into South Atlantic Regional

By Gabe Whisnant
Published in Sports on May 17, 2006 2:16 PM

Mount Olive senior Justin Staatz has the most wins, strikeouts and innings pitched, not to mention one of the best earned run averages, on the Trojans' staff.

Standing at 6-foot-7, it may seem to be a given that the imposing, hard-throwing right-hander will get the ball when No. 6 seed Mount Olive takes the field against top-seeded and Division II South Atlantic Regional host Georgia College and State on Thursday morning.

Not necessarily.

Staatz (8-4, 2.87 ERA, 82 strikeouts) may be Mount Olive's staff's best shot at an all-region selection, but coach Carl Lancaster understands this philosophy -- pitch to offset the opponent's strengths.

The Bobcats feature their fair share of team speed and more impressively, they bunt a lot and bunt well. GC&SU has posted 74 sacrifices on the season, more than triple the amount by Mount Olive's opponents this season (21).

"What we try to do is look at matchups," Lancaster said. "If we're facing a good running team that can bunt, we're better off with (Philip) Pennington or Jesse (Lancaster) on the mound."

Due to his ability to get off the mound quickly, mixed with considerable big game experience, Pennington (6-2, 5.32 ERA) -- a junior from Charles B. Aycock -- will get the start against the No. 2-ranked Bobcats (49-10) in the first game.

"We'll start with 'Penny' in game one and depending on what it looks like in the later innings, we could go with Staatz as the closer," Lancaster said. "If that happens, we would go with Jesse in game two and try to come back with Staatz to start in game three."

Heading into his sixth regional in the last 10 years, Lancaster obviously knows one or two pitchers can't carry all of the load in the double-elimination tournament. Despite dealing with a handful of injuries through the season and now with one key pitcher recently dismissed for the violation of team rules, Lancaster likes the depth of his staff as the Trojans (39-14) head to Milledgeville in central Georgia.

"The big thing down the stretch is Daniel Wood and Paul Buhrow gave us good innings late in the season," he said. "Jesse gave us a good year, considering we weren't counting on him to be in our top three. When Teddy (Pelech) got hurt, we needed Jesse to give us good quality innings.

"We don't really have one guy that is our go-to man. We've had a number of guys step up and do quite well."

Pennington, an all-region performer as a sophomore, and Lancaster, the CVAC Freshman of the Year, are just behind Staatz with six wins each. With a decimated pitching staff essentially since opening day, the duo has consistently carried their starts into the fifth or sixth inning and beyond.

"Playing in three-game series or tournaments, starters have to either give you nothing, or stay out over 40 pitchers. We need five, six or seven innings," Lancaster said. "That's the key for pitchers in any series ... to stay out there. Only a couple of occasions have we had to go to the bullpen early."

Wood (4.36 ERA) has registered a 5-2 record, while Buhrow (3-2, 6.12 ERA) is 2-0 in his last three appearances. Patrick Ball (0-0, 1.42), Ryan Barham (3-0, 2.55) and Brett Williams (0-0, 5.54) have eight appearances each on the season. Rounding out MOC's active pitchers on the roster, Jonathan McClellan (1-0, .257) and Jordan Arnold (0-0, 4.50) have combined to pitch just nine innings.

One thing seems for certain, no matter who trots out to the mound for MOC, Lancaster doesn't see any reason to change his pitchers' approaches on the mound -- despite the fact they will be facing some of the toughest lineups in the region.

"We'll pitch the same way. We can't go in there and try to start everybody off with a breaking ball. Then, you don't throw a strike and everyone knows what we're going to throw next," Lancaster said. "We won't change because of who we are playing. That's when you start over-coaching.

"The bottom line is, players have to get it done between the lines."