04/18/07 — CVAC baseball tournament: Mount Olive prepares to defend title

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CVAC baseball tournament: Mount Olive prepares to defend title

By MOC Sports Information
Published in Sports on April 18, 2007 1:47 PM

Mount Olive shortstop David Cooper has a simple formula for the Trojans this weekend at the Carolinas-Virginia Athletics Conference baseball tournament.

"Pitch well, field cleanly, swing the bat and score runs," said the junior from Edmonton, Alberta.

Mount Olive is the No. 1 seed this weekend in the 2007 Carolinas-Virginia Athletics Conference baseball tournament at Wilson, hosted by Barton College. The nationally 18th-ranked Trojans open play Thursday at 4 p.m. against No. 8 Limestone or No. 9 St. Andrews, who face each other earlier in the day.

Mount Olive (40-11 overall, 20-3 CVAC) won all eight of its CVAC series during the regular season, sweeping five of the series, including this past weekend's rain-shortened two-game series against Pfeiffer.

Picked first in the CVAC preseason coaches' poll, Cooper says the team is used to its role as the hunted.

"We feel like we've had the target on our backs all season, with every team bringing their best against us," said Cooper. "We expect the same in the tournament."

If the key to winning the conference tournament is as Cooper states, the Trojans are on the right track statistically. Mount Olive ranks first in the conference in team pitching (3.74 earned run average) and fielding (.964 fielding percentage), and second in hitting (.344 batting average).

Cooper is among three Trojans batting over .400 as he, Dustin Richardson and Erik Lovett ranked second, third and fourth in the CVAC in hitting, respectively. Lovett is tied for second in the nation in home runs with 17 and Richardson is also ranked in the top 10 with 13 homers.

On the mound, the Trojans' starting rotation of Tom Layne (7-1), Judson Smith (6-2) and Darrell Ellis (6-1) have a combined 19-4 record and all three pitchers sport earned run averages under 4.00. Mount Olive is the only team in the CVAC with a team ERA under 4.00.

Mount Olive is the defending conference tournament champion and Cooper says that experience should help the team this year.

"With last year's experience, we know what it takes to win the tournament," said Cooper.

The tournament champion earns an automatic bid to the South Atlantic Regional of the 2007 NCAA Division II Baseball Championship. The Trojans hope to be ranked high enough in the regional rankings to qualify for an at-large bid, even if they don't win the tournament.

Mount Olive clinched the CVAC regular season championship and the top seed in the tournament more than a week ago. But Cooper says a quest for the bigger picture has kept the team from letting up.

"Winning the conference tournament has been one of our goals since the beginning of the season," said Cooper. "But we've also set our goals to go to regionals and to go to the world series. But first we need to focus on this weekend."

-- MOC sports information