05/15/08 — Trojans' backbone: MOC pitching staff been hard to crack this season

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Trojans' backbone: MOC pitching staff been hard to crack this season

By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on May 15, 2008 3:43 PM

MOUNT OLIVE -- Talented, deep, experienced and confident.

Finding a weakness in Mount Olive's pitching staff has been a perpetual tall order for opposing offenses this season.

The Trojans (49-5 overall) have compiled a 3.05 ERA this season and while Mount Olive's offense has averaged over nine runs a game, its pitching staff has been the backbone of the nation's No. 1-ranked Division II team.

Senior right-hander Ryan Schlecht rode a 12-0 record and a 2.53 ERA to Conference Carolinas pitcher of the year honors. Fellow senior Casey Hodges enters today's South Atlantic Regional with an 8-1 mark and a 2.78 ERA.

Left-handed transfer Michael Williams has been a perfect compliment to the one-two punch of Schlecht and Hodges. The former Francis Marion standout logged an 8-1 record during his first season in a Mount Olive uniform.

"Mike Williams has been just as good as Hodges and Schlecht in half of his starts," said Trojans pitching coach Aaron Akin. "If you said, 'name your number one,' I don't know who it is. On any weekend any one of those guys can throw unbelievably.

"When you have three guys like that who can just put up zero, after zero, after zero that just gives the rest of the team confidence."

The back end of Mount Olive's rotation has been equally as valuable with sixth-year senior Weston Curles (5-0, 3.10 ERA). Curles' best outing of the season came in the opening round of the Conference Carolinas tournament. He carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning against Coker and eventually permitted three hits in an eight-inning stint.

"Curles has been here a while. He can pitch in any role and that's huge," said Akin. "He has so much confidence that he can go out there in a mid-week game, or a weekend or if we make it to the championship of the regional he'll probably throw that game.

"He's a a guy that says 'I'll take the ball whenever,' and he gives you a chance to win."

Sophomore Jesse Lancaster, an outfielder and son of head coach Carl Lancaster has been a reliable fifth starter, tallying a 4-1 record with a 4.11 ERA in six starts.

While giving up runs is a recurring theme against the Trojans this season, keeping pace with Mount Olive's offense has been another story. Opponents have hit just .229 with 26 home runs against Trojans pitching.

When called upon the Mount Olive bullpen has eaten up innings and gotten outs in the most critical of situations. In the finals of the Conference Carolinas tournament in mid-April, Trojans relievers worked seven key innings as Mount Olive rallied from deficits of 6-1 and 8-3 to defeat Belmont Abbey for its third straight tournament title.

All seven of the Trojans relievers have an ERA of 3.68 or lower and only two of those seven have suffered a loss this season.

"Our bullpen has been great this year," said Hodges. "Especially Paul Novicki. He's really pitched well for us this year. He comes in and gets great outs for us with ground balls and double plays. You're never going to hear a pitcher complain about double plays."

Mount Olive opens regional play today against Carolinas Conference foe Erskine (S.C.). First pitch is 7 p.m. at Scarborough Field.