By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on April 21, 2008 1:48 PM
WILSON -- With plenty of adversity suggesting Mount Olive couldn't win a third straight Conference Carolinas baseball tournament crown, all it needed was one reason to believe it could.
Erik Lovett drove a three-run home run deep over the right field wall in the bottom of the eighth inning and propelled Mount Olive to a wild, 13-9 comeback victory over Belmont Abbey on Sunday evening at historic Fleming Stadium.
The top-seeded Trojans claimed their third consecutive automatic bid to the NCAA Division II South Atlantic Regional, and eighth conference tournament title overall in the program's Division II era.
"We're the comeback kings," said Lovett. "We're down but we're never out. We don't ever give up."
Mount Olive (44-5 overall) trailed by as much as five runs on two separate occasions in game two after third-seeded Belmont Abbey forced a second game with a 3-2, 10-inning win in game one.
Josh Harrison's RBI single in the bottom of the eighth of game two drove home Jesse Lancaster and tied the score at 9-9. With Harrison and Sherrer on base and one out, Lovett stepped to the plate and launched the first pitch from Crusaders' reliever Andy Helms deep into the night.
The Trojans led 12-9.
After batting 0-for-5 in game one, Lovett was impossible to retire in game two. The senior first baseman ended the evening 5-for-5, including three RBI and four runs scored.
"The first game was absolutely awful," said Lovett, who earned a spot on the all-tournament team. "I came out and changed my attitude. I've been seeing the ball well and I knew with the wind like it was if I could get something middle-in and get it up, it might have a chance of getting out of here and it did."
Anthony Williams added an RBI single to cap the Trojans' five-run outburst in the eighth.
All-tournament team pick Casey Hodges (7-1) tossed two scoreless innings and retired the Crusaders in order in the ninth. It was Belmont's first championship appearance since losing twice to Mount Olive in the 2001 tournament finals.
The Crusaders grabbed a 6-1 lead with three-run outputs in the second and third innings. The Trojan defense compounded its troubles with two errors.
"We had more errors than we did hits in the third inning," said Mount Olive head coach Carl Lancaster. "We felt like if we could just stay in the game and pick up a run here or there ...
"The kids just kept battling and I'm extremely proud of them."
Ranked No. 1 in the nation, the "comeback kings" started their miraculous turnaround in the sixth inning. David Cooper supplied an RBI single and Lancaster contributed an RBI sacrifice fly to ignite the rally. Tournament MVP Alex Vertcnik (2-for-4, three RBI) ripped a game-tying, three-run homer.
"I got a changeup inside," said Vertcnik. "The wind picked up a little bit and I got a good piece of it. I was glad I put it out."
Jay McConnell pushed Belmont Abbey ahead 9-8 in the seventh with an RBI. He and his teammates wiggled out of a bases-loaded jam in the Trojans' seventh, but couldn't prevent Mount Olive from claiming its 12th tournament victory in its last 13 tries.
Tyler McKenzie's 10th-inning, RBI single off reliever Kyle Jones capped the Crusaders' win earlier Sunday. Trojans starter Michael Williams worked nine-plus innings before Jones took the mound with one out in the 10th.
Williams surrendered 10 hits, struck out Abbey batters and walked just two. Until McKenzie's single, Williams had thrown eight straight scoreless innings after allowing a two-run, first-inning homer.
Mount Olive returns to action at home Wednesday against Chowan University. The doubleheader begins at 4 p.m.
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