05/25/08 — Mount Olive's title quest starts today

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Mount Olive's title quest starts today

By Ryan Hanchett
Published in Sports on May 25, 2008 2:02 AM

SAUGET, Ill. -- When the Mount Olive College baseball team looks into the opposing dugout during today's opening round of the NCAA Division II College World Series, they might see their own reflection in real life.

Ouachita (Ark.) Baptist embodies many of the same characteristics as MOC -- the nation's No.-1 ranked team.

Both clubs knocked off perennial playoff fixtures in their respective regional finals. Ouachita stunned Delta State in South Central action, while Mount Olive beat USC-Aiken twice to clinch the South Atlantic championship. Each victor received dominant and surprising pitching performances. And each program earned its first-ever trip to college baseball's biggest stage.

"Right now they are really hot at the plate, they steal bases and they play aggressive," said Mount Olive assistant coach Aaron Akin. "We need to limit their at-bats, and try to keep them off the basepaths as much as possible."

The Fighting Tigers (47-14 overall) recorded 25 home victories and survived the rigors of the Gulf South Conference.

Ouachita is led offensively by senior catcher Jim Strelcher, who is batting an impressive .425 entering today's game. Destan Makonnen provides the pop for the Tigers. The first baseman has belted 22 home runs on the year to go along with 14 doubles, while maintaining a .328 batting average.

Mount Olive's Casey Hodges will be saddled with the task of shutting down the Ouachita lineup. Hodges (9-1) has been the Trojans' most consistent starter for much of the season.

"He rises to the occasion in big games, and he sets the tone for the team by how he carries himself on the field," said Akin. "We have confidence that he is going to go out and pitch a good ballgame."

Pitching was the story of the South Central Regional for Ouachita, as staff ace Steve Smith (9-1) dominated Southern Arkansas with a complete-game effort in the opening round. Chase Baran delivered a victory the following day.

Possibly the best mound performance of Ouachita's season came in the regional winners' bracket final when little-used Trent Lingle paralyzed the perenially-potent Delta State University long enough for the Tigers to race out to an early 13-1 advantage and an eventual victory.

"They have a couple solid starters, and a big right-hander that has done a good job recently," noted Akin. "We just need to settle in and work the count against whoever is out there."

For Mount Olive, it has been a season of shattered records.

With their performance in the South Atlantic Regional, the Trojans surpassed team marks for wins, runs scored and doubles.

The MOC offense is led by Conference Carolinas Player of the Year Jason Sherrer, who boasts a .414 batting average and 79 RBI. Southern Wayne product Erik Lovett leads the team in both home runs (17) and doubles (27).

"Our lineup should benefit from the short porches here, especially in right field," said Akin. "We have a lot of left-handed batters and the last two days the wind has been blowing out to right field which will help us as much as it helps anybody."

Game time is 2:30 p.m. CDT.