05/20/08 — Trojans top USCA

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Trojans top USCA

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on May 20, 2008 2:03 PM

MOUNT OLIVE -- The nation's "best kept secret" is officially out of the bag.

Wearing its lucky yellow jerseys, Mount Olive defeated USC Aiken twice over the course of Sunday and Monday to win the NCAA Division II South Atlantic Regional at Scarborough Field.

The No. 1-ranked Trojans dumped the third-seeded Pacers 13-2 and emerged victorious 8-3 in the winner-take-all game, which concluded Monday morning. With the victory, Mount Olive (54-6 overall) punched its ticket to its first-ever Division II College World Series, which begin Saturday in Sauget, Ill.

The Trojans open play Sunday against South Central Regional champion Ouachita Baptist. First pitch is 2:30 p.m. CDT.

"There has never been a more deserving group of young men than these guys," said Trojans head coach Carl Lancaster. "They've been phenomenal since day one in the classroom and doing community service. This is the way they need to go out. They're very deserving."

Lancaster is taking his second team to the big stage. Mount Olive advanced to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics World Series in 1992.

Rain suspended play Sunday evening with Mount Olive batting and holding a precarious 4-2 lead in the eighth inning. Erik Lovett was on second base and Josh Harrison faced a 1-0 count against left-hander Scott Wandless when officials sent both teams to their respective dugouts.

The delay caused a pitching change Monday.

When play resumed, Peden Rucker replaced Wandless on the mound for USC-Aiken. Rucker gave up a run-scoring single to Jesse Lancaster, who stroked the hit into right field past a drawn-in infield expecting the bunt.

Conference Carolinas pitcher of the year Ryan Schlecht took the mound in the eighth. The right-hander allowed runners to reach second and third, but caught Ken Raborn looking at a called third strike to end the inning.

Alex Vertcnik ignited a three-run, ninth-inning outburst with an RBI double down the third-base line. Jason Sherrer followed with an RBI single and Lovett, in his final at-bat at Scarborough Field, capped the scoring with an RBI hit.

Lovett finished the outing 3-for-5 with an RBI.

"It's great," said Lovett. "I've been around here my whole life and I've known Coach Lancaster forever. We have a bunch of fans that come out and support us. This is going to be a great week or two coming up."

Schlecht (13-0) issued a lead-off homer to Nick Aranas in the Pacers' ninth. He induced two ground-ball outs and struck out Chris Grandinetti to clinch the regional crown.

It was Schlecht's first save of the season.

"Coach (Lancaster) told us not to get to the ballpark until 10 this morning and I was here at 8:30," said Schlecht. "I was a little nervous hoping I was going to throw strikes. We hadn't thrown a split-finger all day and I knew that's what was coming.

"I knew I was going to strike (Grandinetti) out."

But it seemed the Trojans might experience another heartache on Sunday.

USC-Aiken (47-17) loaded the bases in the first inning against Mount Olive left-hander Paul Novicki, but manufactured just one run off John Sherrer's RBI single.

Wandless kept Mount Olive scoreless until the third.

Lancaster doubled and Dylan Holton reached on a single to put runners at the corner. Racobaldo delivered a game-tying single to make it 1-1. The Louisburg College transfer eventually earned regional MVP honors with a 4-for-5, two-RBI outing.

"It's great to be that player, but it doesn't mean anything if we don't win anything," said Racobaldo. "We still have the World Series. I think we can win the World Series."

Grandinetti's two-out, RBI single gave the Pacers their last lead, 2-1, in the third inning. David Cooper's game-tying, fifth-inning RBI single and Racobaldo's base knock put the Trojans in front to stay at 3-2.

Vertcnik drove home Racobaldo with a seventh-inning, ground-rule double to make it 4-2.

Mount Olive hurler Casey Hodges replaced Todd Jeffreys on the mound in the sixth and provided two scoreless innings of three-strikeout relief. He allowed a meaningless seventh-inning hit, but retired for the regional once rain suspended play.