05/17/06 — No more time's a-waistin' for Trojans

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No more time's a-waistin' for Trojans

By MOC Sports Information
Published in Sports on May 17, 2006 2:17 PM

At Mount Olive College home baseball games, each player has his own personal theme song played before he steps into the batter's box.

The players might rethink their selection after experiencing nearly a three-week layoff.

How about the 1980s classic "Too Much Time On My Hands" by Styx?

The 27th-ranked Trojans learned their playoff fate early Monday morning when the NCAA Division II selection committee finally released the South Atlantic Regional pairings. Mount Olive drew the No. 6 seed and an opening-round contest against Georgia College and State University, the host institution which has spent almost the last month ranked No. 1 in the nation.

It almost seems like a season ago when Mount Olive won the 2006 Carolinas-Virginia Athletics Conference tournament and secured a bid to "the dance." The Trojans defeated Limestone (S.C.) College 16-1 in the championship game on Apr. 24 at historic Fleming Stadium in Wilson.

"We needed a little bit of a break to let some guys heal up," said head coach Carl Lancaster. "But I don't think we needed a three-week break."

The Trojans have seen some outside competition since the conference tournament: a doubleheader at Wingate two weeks ago, an exhibition game against Lenoir Community College last weekend and a scrimmage against Division III member North Carolina Wesleyan earlier this week. Otherwise, the only baseball action the team has seen has been practice.

And practice.

And more practice.

"It gets pretty repetitive after a while," said sophomore shortstop David Cooper. "Everyone's anxious to play, so it's a challenge to stay focused."

"Try as you may, it's tough to simulate game atmosphere, let alone tournament atmosphere, during practice," said junior first baseman and Eastern Wayne graduate Josh Carter. "There's only a certain level and focus you can put into practice."

If it were up to senior outfielder Lance Martin, the regional would have taken place as soon as possible after the final out of the CVAC Tournament.

"Coming off a really big high and then spending three or four weeks practicing, it gets kind of old," said Martin. "There's a lot of anticipation for the regional. We're all ready to go."

Junior outfielder Graham Wooten is quick to point out one thing that does keep the team focused.

"We're ready to play in an NCAA championship, so that keeps us focused," said Wooten, also an Eastern Wayne graduate.

Not only are the Trojans done with regular-season play, classes at Mount Olive ended more than a week ago, giving the players even more free time.

Many of the players have hung "Gone Fishing" signs on their doors to pass the time, even players who normally don't do a lot of fishing.

"A lot of the guys from around here have been teaching us Canadians and city folks how to fish," said Cooper, one of five players from Alberta.

Golf has been another popular activity, especially for the pitchers.

"Golf has been at the top of my list," said junior pitcher Phillip Pennington, a graduate of Charles B. Aycock High School. "Golf doesn't affect my pitching arm, so when I'm not throwing, I'm golfing."

Pennington notes that he shoots in the mid-80s.

"I might talk to (Mount Olive head golf coach) Chip Spiron after I've finished my baseball eligibility," joked Pennington.

Renting movies and playing video games have been popular pastimes, as well as typical summer activities.

"A lot of us have gone to the beach in our free time," said Martin. "We also do a lot of grilling."

Despite the abundance of free time, Carter says there is one thing that makes the wait bearable -- knowing that Mount Olive already has a spot in the regional.

"At least we know we have something to play for and we don't have to worry about having our fate determined by someone else," said Carter. "That makes a big-time difference."

Two years ago, the Trojans won the CVAC Tournament, then spent three weeks practicing without knowing if they would get to play in the regional. Mount Olive did not receive a bid.

"Knowing that we're in keeps us more confident in practice," said Pennington. "We don't have to wonder in the back of our minds if we're doing all of this for nothing."

Mount Olive compiled a record of 39-14 this season, including an 18-1 mark from late March through the CVAC Tournament. A key to the Trojans' success on the field has also been a factor in coping with the extended layoff - team chemistry.

"We're a very close-knit group, so we enjoy doing things together," said Wooten. "The guys pretty much stick together, rather than all of us going our separate ways, and that's helped a lot."

"In terms of team chemistry, this is one of the best teams I've had in a number of years," said Lancaster. "They really enjoy being around each other, both on and off the field."

Lancaster points to a recent fishing trip by some of his players as an example of the camaraderie among the team members.

"There were four of our players and they only had one fishing pole between them," said Lancaster. "So the four of them took turns using the pole. Now that's teamwork."