05/16/07 — Mount Olive South Atlantic Regional preview

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Mount Olive South Atlantic Regional preview

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on May 16, 2007 1:48 PM

MOUNT OLIVE -- When the Mount Olive College baseball team stepped between the lines at Scarborough Field during the fall, veteran coach Carl Lancaster knew he had something special on his hands.

Boy, did he ever.

The talented crop of returning players meshed well with the gifted newcomers. The experienced players immediately established leadership and the team enjoyed a successful fall campaign.

Once word spread about the "loaded" Trojans, opposing coaches flooded Lancaster's phone with messages. Most admitted Mount Olive had a chance to succeed not only on the regional stage, but on the national scene as well.

"We knew in the fall this team had the chance to be one of the best teams we've ever had," said Lancaster. "We can't control what they do between the lines, but it is our job as coaches to get them ready to play and get everybody on the same page.

"We've just got a good group of kids."

But how would that group respond to an 11-game road swing that included stops at Peach Belt powers Armstrong Atlantic State, Francis Marion and Georgia College & State University? The Trojans ended up with a 1-3 split at Armstrong Atlantic, but defeated GCSU and Francis Marion.

Mount Olive returned home with a 6-5 worksheet.

"It easily could have gone either way," said Lancaster. "That first two weeks is probably the best schedule anyone played in the country in that amount of time. We came out of it okay and it really became beneficial once we got to play some games at home.

"That gave us the idea we've got a chance to be as good as we hoped, especially playing like we did on the road."

Lancaster wasn't wrong. His four-year plan slowly took shape as the Trojans won 13 of their next 16 games. Dustin Richardson, Stephen Nordan, David Cooper, Josh Carter, Anthony Williams, Graham Wooten and Josh Harrison found their respective grooves at the plate.

Erik Lovett, fully recovered from an ACL injury, ignited a season-long home-run chase with Richardson and Scott Houin. The trio combined for 46 of the Trojans' school-record and national-leading 87 homers.

While Lancaster prefers the short game, he didn't mind having the power from one through nine in the lineup. The Trojans pounded out 168 extra-base hits in addition to the phenomenal home run total.

"We don't have a weakness other than trading in our style of play," said Lancaster. "We had to adjust our coaching philosophy. Typically, you don't think that's a good sign when you play on a field as long as we've got.

"But these boys, it doesn't matter where they hit them when they get into a pitch."

The strong offensive outings usually alleviated the pressure on the Mount Olive bullpen. But the pitching staff proved to be effective and efficient in compiling a 3.56 ERA in 462 innings of work. Tom Layne and Judson Smith tied for the team lead in victories (8), while Darrell Ellis and Casey Hodges recorded seven and six, respectively.

Clicking on all cylinders like a finely-tuned engine, the Trojans seized control of the Carolinas-Virginia Athletics Conference race. They emerged the regular-season and tournament champions, and earned their second consecutive trip to the NCAA Division II South Atlantic Regional.

"This (success) has been brewing a bit," grinned Lancaster. "The kids we brought in were pretty good this year. We had some holes we needed to fill and these boys were the right ones for it."