05/11/08 — MOC teammates keep track of each other's success

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MOC teammates keep track of each other's success

By Ryan Hanchett
Published in Sports on May 11, 2008 2:02 AM

Baseball is a game of numbers. There's wins and losses. There's individual and team statistics.

Not only do the Mount Olive College baseball players crunch numbers about opposing teams, they keep a watchful eye on their teammates. And it's caused some friendly competition this season.

Take for instance roommates Ryan Schlecht and Mike Williams.

Schlecht has logged a school-record 12 mound wins this season, while Williams is 8-1. Schlecht has the lower earned run average and has thrown two more games in terms of innings pitched -- 85 1/3 to 67 1/3.

Add Casey Hodges to the mix.

The senior leads the pitching rotation in strikeouts (66) and is tied with Schlecht for complete games (3).

"Casey and I played together over the summer," said Schlecht. "When I found out he was playing at Mount Olive, too, I knew I had to come in and prove that I had the stuff to compete here.

"After Casey pitched the complete game against Armstrong Atlantic a couple of weeks ago, I knew I had to start the next day. I told him he was making it tough on me, trying to top that performance."

Both earned a mound win against the perennial Peach Belt Conference power as the Trojans swept the season-ending series.

Sometimes overlooked in the headlines, the MOC pitching staff is quick to defer the spotlight.

After all, every Trojan in the starting lineup is ranked in one or more statistical categories, which takes enormous pressure off the bullpen.

"Our offense deserves a lot of credit. It's nice to pitch on this team where everyone hits the ball," said Schlecht. "You don't have to worry about shutting the other team out because the offense is going to put up runs."

One star to emerge in the potent Trojan lineup is newcomer Alex Vertcnik. The junior college transfer is driving in runs at a feverish pace and battling Jason Sherrer, the Conference Carolinas player of the year, for the team RBI lead.

The duo has taken the role of bodyguard to protect Erik Lovett, the 2007 NCAA Division II player of the year, who leads the team with 14 home runs. Lovett hits behind Vertcnik and Sherrer in the lineup.

"When you get the three, four and five hitters producing, then it's important to just stick to the game plan and get ready for good pitching in the tournament," said Vertcnik. "Right now, Erik is swinging it pretty well, and Jason and I have been getting some good opportunities to drive in runs."

Competition among hitters is also a common occurance.

"I was hearing it a lot early in the year from the other guys." said a smiling Vertcnik. "I hit a few sacrifice flies and a few productive ground balls, so they kind of got on me about 'cheap' RBIs."

Sherrer is batting .419 with Vertcnik close behind at .408.

"Most of the guys use the stat sheet to motivate themselves as more of a personal thing, but at this time of the season I think that stats are probably less important individually than they were at the beginning of the year," said Vertcnik.

Mount Olive is hitting .354 as a team. The No. 1-ranked Trojans (49-5 overall) have accumulated more than 500 runs this season and have compiled an eye-popping .550 slugging percentage.