05/21/06 — Mount Olive's season ends at NCAA regional

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Mount Olive's season ends at NCAA regional

By MOC Sports Information
Published in Sports on May 21, 2006 2:16 AM

MOC Sports Information

MILLEDGEVILLE, Ga. -- Mount Olive head baseball coach Carl Lancaster was concerned about his team being rusty heading into the NCAA Tournament. And after Friday's loss, it was apparent the team was feeling the effects of a three-week layoff.

"You hate to make excuses, but we didn't play well this weekend and being off for three weeks had a lot to do with it," said Lancaster. "But we did have a great season and I'm very proud of our guys."

Mount Olive outhit its opponent for the second game in a row, but a ninth-inning rally came up short as the sixth-seeded Trojans fell to No. 5 seed USC-Aiken 3-2 in an elimination game at the South Atlantic Regional of the 2006 NCAA Division II Baseball Championship on Friday.

Mount Olive ends its season at 39-16. The regional marked the Trojans' first games since April 29. Mount Olive won the Carolinas-Virginia Athletics Conference Tournament on April 24.

The Trojans had an early scoring opportunity when Lance Martin singled with one out and Josh Carter followed with a walk. But Stephen Nordan's liner went right in the glove of USC-Aiken pitcher Jon Paul, who doubled up Martin on second.

Mount Olive got on the scoreboard in the top of the third when Carter's two-out single scored David Cooper from second. Carter hit .625 (5-for-8) at the regional.

Trojan starter Justin Staatz retired the first seven batters he faced before a one-out walk in the bottom of the third helped set up USC-Aiken's first run. Zach Cooper's two-out bunt single was the first hit allowed by Staatz and Casey Derhak's single up the middle tied the game 1-1.

Mount Olive threatened in the top of the fourth when Dustin Richardson hit a leadoff single to extend his hitting streak to 10. Jon Skelley drew a one-out walk, but Paul retired the next two batters on a fly out and a force out.

Staatz (8-5) retired the side in order in the fourth and helped himself out defensively in the fifth when he fielded a slow roller to the first base side of the mound and tagged Ian Kowalchuk a step in front of the bag.

Staatz took a three-hitter into the sixth inning, but USC-Aiken (44-18) took advantage of Trojan miscues to score a pair of unearned runs. Derhak reached on an infield error to lead off the inning, advanced to second and moved to third on a ground out.

The Trojans looked like they would be able to get out of the inning after retiring clean-up batter Steven Kinney on a foul out in front of the third base dugout for the second out. But Darry Pui lined a 1-2 pitch to right to plate Derhak and break the tie. Pui stole second, advanced to third on an error and scored on Mike Wadowski's single to left to give the Pacers a 3-1 lead.

"That sixth inning really killed us," said Lancaster. "We made some errors we normally don't make and USC-Aiken took advantage. At this level, you can't afford those kinds of mistakes."

Mount Olive struggled offensively against the left-hander Paul (9-4), who retired nine consecutive batters until Kyle Curtis lined a ball off of Paul for an infield single in the seventh. After being looked at by the trainer, Paul stayed in the game to pitch the seventh and eighth innings.

Staatz pitched a three-up, three-down inning in the seventh, then benefited from a pair of Trojan defensive plays in the eighth. After a leadoff single by Derhak, Mount Olive turned a 6-4-3 double play. Kinney singled and went to second on an error, but Staatz got out of the inning when right fielder Graham Wooten made a juggling catch at the fence on Pui's fly ball.

USC-Aiken gave the ball to its closer Nick Wandless in the ninth inning. A right-hander, Wandless entered the regional ranked second in the nation with 15 saves.

Nordan, who hit a two-run homer in the ninth inning Friday against Georgia College and State, drew a walk to lead off the inning. Then came a play that may have ended up deciding the game.

After Richardson took an 0-1 pitch for a ball, USC-Aiken catcher Robert Davis threw down to first and Nordan was called out. Lancaster came out of the first base dugout to challenge the call, but to no avail.

The pickoff loomed large as Richardson doubled to left. After a strikeout for the second out, Josh Harrison batted for Skelley.

"We had wanted to get Harrison in earlier in the series, but both teams were throwing left-handers at us," said Lancaster. Harrison, who was named to the All-CVAC Second Team, bats left-handed.

Mount Olive was down to its final strike, but Harrison sent a 1-2 pitch up the middle to bring in Richardson and pull the Trojans within 3-2.

Mount Olive was down to its last strike again, but Kyle Curtis singled through the right side and pinch-runner Tim Morgan advanced to third, putting the tying run 90 feet away and bringing up Anthony Williams, who had three two-out singles and two runs batted in against Georgia College and State. But Wandless came up with his second strikeout of the game to end the contest and the Trojans' season.

"That's a tough way to end the season," Lancaster said of the pickoff call. "But I'm really proud of the way the guys battled back. They never gave up. They battled all the way to the final pitch."

Mount Olive finished with nine hits, compared to seven for USC-Aiken. The Trojans had outhit Georgia College and State 16-12 Thursday in the tournament opener.

In his final collegiate outing, Staatz pitched his sixth complete game of the season, tossing a seven-hitter and allowing only one earned run. He struck out six and walked only one. Staatz threw 133 pitches.

"Staatz pitched a tremendous game for us today," said Lancaster. "He did his job on the mound and kept us in the game."

Mount Olive, which won this year's Carolinas-Virginia Athletics Conference championship, made its sixth appearance in the NCAA Division II Baseball Championship.

Although Mount Olive went 0-2 at the regional, Lancaster expects his team to benefit from the experience, particularly with the Trojans losing only four seniors: Martin, Staatz and pitchers Jonathan McClellan and Brett Williams.

"We have a lot of guys coming back next year and it was good for them to get a taste of the NCAA Tournament," said Lancaster.

"Hopefully, we can get back here again next year and our guys will know what they need to do to compete at this level."