06/01/08 — NATIONAL CHAMPS: Mount Olive claims Division II CWS baseball crown

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NATIONAL CHAMPS: Mount Olive claims Division II CWS baseball crown

By Ryan Hanchett
Published in Sports on June 1, 2008 3:34 AM

SAUGET, Ill. -- No. 1-ranked Mount Olive tasted victory for the 58th time Saturday afternoon.

But none was as sweet as this.

The Trojans earned their first-ever national championship in any sport with a 6-2 victory over Ouachita (Ark.) Baptist in the NCAA Division II College World Series title game on the GCS Stadium diamond.

"I really don't know what to say," said MOC head coach Carl Lancaster. "It's amazing to see these guys reach their goal and become champions."

Mount Olive (58-6 overall) jumped ahead in the first inning when a Ouachita error ignited a five-run uprising. Josh Harrison delivered a two-run single into center field. Two batters later, Dylan Holton cleared the bases with a three-RBI double.

"Coach told me to go up there expecting a fastball," said Holton. "Coach said if the first pitch was off-speed to lay off, and then with a 1-0 count he brought me a fastball that I could handle."

Starting right-hander Casey Hodges easily preserved the five-run advantage through seven innings. It was his second outing against Ouachita, which was playing its fifth game in five days.

Hodges executed the game plan well.

"I wasn't sharp on Sunday," admitted Hodges. "But in that game we were pretty much trying to challenge them with fastballs to see how they would handle the velocity. Today, I got to use more off-speed stuff and it worked out for me."

The Trojans tacked on a single run in the fifth. Joseph Westbrook drove home Harrison with a base knock.

Ouachita Baptist spoiled Hodges' shutout bid in the eighth inning.

Center fielder Blake Lockwood doubled to lead off the frame and scored just two pitches later when Justin Pennell reached on a Mount Olive error. Jim Streicher promptly launched a double that plated Pennell and pulled the Tigers within 6-2.

Lancaster never thought about pulling Hodges.

"He is the guy that got us here," Lancaster said. "So we felt like it was important for him to finish the inning."

Hodges didn't return for the ninth, finishing with six strikeouts and throwing 134 pitches in eight innings. Ryan Schlecht took over in the ninth after the Trojans went quietly in their half of the inning.

Schlecht induced three consecutive groundouts, all to shortstop David Cooper, and the celebration began.

Catcher Jason Sherrer and third baseman Rich Racobaldo reached the mound first as excited reserve players rushed out of the dugout and onto the infield. Senior first baseman Erik Lovett got the national championship trophy and proceeded to join the commotion.

"This whole trip has been an amazing experience," said Harrison. "This is the closest group of guys I have ever played with, and I don't think it could get any better."

Lancaster noted the program's recent success.

"We have won over 100 games over the last two seasons," he said. "Maybe with this, some folks will be interested and look us up on the map. When you come from a small town like Mount Olive, and small university with only around 700 students I think you get a little bit better support than some of the teams that play in big cities.

"From what I have been told, it's pretty crazy back there now, and I can't wait to get back and enjoy this with the rest of my family and the community."

The Trojans certainly surpassed their expectations.

They repeated as Conference Carolinas regular-season and tournament champions for the third consecutive year. They rallied from the losers' bracket to claim the South Atlantic Regional title.

Now, they're national champions.

"Last year when we lost to Columbus State in the regional, our Athletic Director Jeff Eisen reminded me that only one team in the whole country gets to finish their season with a win," said Lancaster. "This year it was our turn to be that team."