03/05/08 — Trojans' first baseman finding his stride

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Trojans' first baseman finding his stride

By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on March 5, 2008 1:50 PM

MOUNT OLIVE -- Forgive Erik Lovett for having a chip on his shoulder this season.

He certainly feels he has something to prove.

Last season, the Mount Olive College first baseman and his teammates just missed advancing to the Division II College World Series. And Lovett, who hails from Dudley, earned Daktronics Division II player of the year accolades.

But Lovett garnered little attention in the Major League Baseball draft. He's used that dissing as motivation.

The senior has helped the Trojans compile a 19-1 record and climb to No. 1 in both the Collegiate Baseball top 30 and Ping Baseball top 30. Not to mention, Lovett is batting a crisp .375 with 15 RBI, 22 runs scored and two home runs.

Lovett tied the school record for career home runs (27) against Anderson (S.C.) on Sunday afternoon.

"I guess I'm being more patient," said Lovett, who received Conference Carolinas player of the week recognition. "I'm trying to stay patient because in the past I've gotten myself out swinging at bad pitches."

Lovett's presence has been felt throughout the lineup this season. Ten different players are hitting .300 or better with Alex Vertcnik, who bats one spot ahead of Lovett, leading the team with 26 RBI.

"We make a big effort for the other kids to understand that you're not Erik Lovett," Mount Olive head coach Carl Lancaster said. "All these boys have a different role. Last year's team had a lot of guys that had the same agenda when they went to the plate.

"In a lot of respects this team might be better. We find more ways to get on the board rather than sit around and wait to hit the long ball."

Last season's gut-wrenching finish, says Lovett, was difficult to overcome. He had the same experience while playing for perennial JUCO power Louisburg College.

Those are lessons learned. Lovett uses those disappointments as motivation and chooses to lead by example, not by words. With Vertcnik and shortstop David Cooper handling the verbal leadership, he lets his daily work ethic -- in practice and games -- speak for itself.

"We have a bunch of guys that are great leaders," said Lovett. "Cooper has a 'never quit' attitude. He and Vertcnik are always in the dugout before games getting everybody pumped up."

Playing professional baseball is something Lovett admits he's dreamed of doing since he was a kid. He patiently sat and watched as teammate Tom Layne was drafted last spring by the Arizona Diamondbacks.

If Lovett's 2008 season is anything like 2007, all that heartbreak could turn a long overdue dream into reality.

"I really think as far as pro scouts are concerned they know what's going on," said Lancaster. "There's nobody in the country that doesn't understand the type of power Erik's got. Obviously, we were all disappointed when he didn't get the opportunity to play pro ball.

"The truth be known, I would rather he not be here and be playing pro ball."