05/20/08 — Racobaldo swings big bat at Regional

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Racobaldo swings big bat at Regional

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on May 20, 2008 2:00 PM

MOUNT OLIVE -- Graduation depleted several key positions for Mount Olive College's baseball team last season, but none was more pivotal than third base.

Who would -- and could -- fill the void left by two-time, all-conference performer Stephen Nordan?

Enter Rich Racobaldo.

Mount Olive coach Carl Lancaster got his first look at the Louisburg College transfer during a tournament last season. Racobaldo didn't leave much of an impression.

"He just didn't turn my head," said Lancaster. "I was wondering 'what am I going to do? He's an athlete ... big and strong."

Lancaster's glad he took the risk.

Racobaldo proved his worth during this weekend's NCAA Division II South Atlantic Regional. The 6-foot-2, 215-pounder batted a team-leading .538 with 14 hits and nine RBI in six games. He scored eight runs and posted a slugging percentage of .692. He batted 4-for-5 in the championship game against USC-Aiken and delivered the go-ahead RBI single.

But one defensive play turned Lancaster's head.

Racobaldo snagged a double-play grounder in the hole. Instead of turning the twin-killing, he saw a USCA runner take off for home. He threw a perfect strike to catcher Jason Sherrer for the out and the top-seeded Trojans escaped the inning without yielding any runs.

"He's a gamer," said Lancaster. "When it gets to the big platform, he steps his game up and really did that (this weekend)."

Racobaldo earned the regional's most valuable player award and was one of eight Trojans named to the all-tournament team. Joining him were Sherrer, Erik Lovett, David Cooper, Alex Vertcnik, Anthony Williams, Kyle Jones and Ryan Schlecht.

Completing the 11-player squad were USC-Aiken's Ken Raborn and Scott Wandless, and Jonnie Geiger of Columbus State.

"He didn't try to do too much as he does at times," said Lancaster. "He didn't over-swing at balls, but just tried to hit the ball where it was pitched. He was huge for us.

"Some were blistering shots in the gaps or if he was behind in the count, he just put it in play."

Racobaldo spearheaded a Trojan offense which batted a collective .374 with 21 extra-base hits and 48 RBI. Williams, Vertcnik and Lovett all hit .400 or higher during the double-elimination event. Sherrer and Cooper hit .375 and .360, respectively.

"We've got good athletes out there, we really do," said Lancaster, who is 2-6 all-time against USC-Aiken. "I don't think we were the most-athletic team that you saw this weekend. I honestly don't, but I think we had the biggest heart.

"We have good players who are a team. They really battle."

Vertcnik, Sherrer, pitcher Casey Hodges and Schlecht earned first-team recognition on the 2008 Rawlings/ABCA South Region Team. Lovett, Racobaldo and Cooper grabbed second-team honors.