05/11/08 — Nation's top-ranked team responds to coach's challenging schedule

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Nation's top-ranked team responds to coach's challenging schedule

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on May 11, 2008 2:02 AM

MOUNT OLIVE -- Carl Lancaster has never shied away from scheduling strong competition on the baseball diamond. His Mount Olive College teams haven't been too timid, either.

The first three weekends in February, Lancaster rolled the Trojans out against three quality region opponents -- Tusculum (Tenn.), Lenoir-Rhyne and Shippensburg (Pa.) University.

All three series, in Lancaster's estimation, would give him and his staff a barometer of what kind of team they'd have this season.

Needless to say, neither Lancaster nor his assistants seemed too disappointed after those 10 games.

Mount Olive compiled a 9-1 worksheet with the only blemish a 9-5 setback against Tusculum, which eventually claimed the South Atlantic Conference tournament nearly a month ago.

"That's where we found out a lot about ourself," Lancaster said of the Tusculum series. "We thought we had a good club, but we had new arms and a new third baseman. From a coach's standpoint, that was a good measuring stick.

"They had a majority of their kids back."

Lancaster said the team played stellar defense against Tusculum and praised his staff for keeping the pitchers within their pitch limits in the three-game set.

Mount Olive had proved the naysayers, particularly its Conference Carolina opponents, wrong for yet another year. After the Tusculum loss, the Trojans reeled off 23 consecutive victories and swept three conference foes.

"People didn't expect us to be very good, particularly in our league," said Lancaster. "We rose to the occasion and that really set the tone for what we did. Sometimes it's not what you do in terms of national stuff, but what you do against quality programs."

The Trojans (49-5 overall) seized their third consecutive Conference Carolinas regular-season and tournament championship, and captured their third straight bid to the NCAA Division II South Atlantic Regional.

Mount Olive enters the postseason on a six-game win streak, which includes four shutouts. It has outscored the opposition 55-10 during that stretch.

"The bottom line is we've swung the bat a bit, played some pretty good defense along the way and pitched extremely well," said Lancaster. "With this team, there is nothing flashy and we're steady.

"As a coach, that's wonderful."

And the mark of a top-notch, nationally-respected program.