06/08/08 — Five Trojans have dreams come true in MLB draft

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Five Trojans have dreams come true in MLB draft

By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on June 8, 2008 12:42 PM

MOUNT OLIVE -- Hollywood couldn't have scripted it any better.

From winning a national championship to getting drafted all in a week's time, the past seven or eight days have been a whirlwind of emotions for five member's of Mount Olive's baseball team.

Seniors Erik Lovett, Casey Hodges, Ryan Schlecht, Michael Williams and David Cooper had lifelong dreams come true on Friday when they were each selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

Lovett, Mount Olive's first baseman, hit .403 with 21 homers in 2007 and anticipated getting drafted. The draft came and went and dashed the Southern Wayne grad's hopes in the process.

Returning to Mount Olive with a chip on his shoulder, Lovett, the 2007 Daktronics Division II National Player of the Year, proceeded to bat .371 with 18 home runs and 77 runs batted in this season.

Lovett's efforts were rewarded when the New York Yankees selected him in the 39th round by the New York Yankees.

"Things work out for the best," Lovett said. "I was pretty bummed out about not getting drafted. To come back and get a ring and then get drafted, it's been a great week."

Lovett leaves Monday for the Yankees training facility in Tampa, Fla., and expects to be assigned to the Staten Island Yankees, New York's short-season Class A affiliate, perhaps as early as next weekend.

Hodges, a right-handed pitcher from Rocky Mount, Va., was selected in the 23rd round by the Atlanta Braves. The son of former Mets catcher Ron Hodges, Casey finished the 2008 season with 10-1 record and a 2.53 ERA.

Despite being a lifelong Mets fan, Hodges was quick to embrace his new club.

"I put the Braves hat on pretty proudly," Hodges said. "There might be some tension in the house but it didn't take long for my dad to do the Atlanta Braves chop."

Hodges got the start on the mound for the national championship game as Mount Olive defeated Ouachita Baptist 6-2 to clinch its first national title. That experience should pay dividends as Hodges begins his professional career.

"It certainly helps you deal with nerves," Hodges said. "When you're pitching in the national title game you have to be calm. It helps you prepare for minor league baseball when you'll be pitching in parks with several thousand fans."

Hodges will report to Danville, Va. on Monday and will spend the summer about an hour from his parents home playing for the Danville Braves, Atlanta's rookie-league affiliate.

Schlecht, a first team All-American from Scottsdale, Ariz., tied for first in the nation in wins with a 13-0 mark. The 2008 Conference Carolinas Pitcher of the Year, Schlecht was chosen in the 34th round by the Texas Rangers.

"I didn't sit around and I didn't look at a computer all day," Schlecht said. "I went golfing with (assistant coach) Aaron Akin. When I finally found out I had been drafted it kind of hit home."

Schlecht will report to Surprise, Ariz., about 30 minutes from his parents home before being assigned to a minor league squad.

Williams, a left-hander from Myrtle Beach, S.C., recorded an 8-2 record with a 4.10 ERA in 2008. The transfer from Francis Marion was selected in the 44th round by the Pittsburgh Pirates.

"This is probably the best feeling I'll have in my life," Williams said. "To just be able to tell my kids in the future that I won a national championship and that I was also was drafted is just awesome."

Williams was uncertain of when and where he'll report to begin his minor league career.

Cooper, a three-time all-region and all-conference selection from Edmonton, Alberta, was the Trojans' leadoff batter in each of his three years at Mount Olive. He finished his career with 102 stolen bases and set all career, single-season and single-game school records for stolen bases and triples. Those performances garnered the attention of the Arizona Diamondbacks, the club that selected Cooper in the 44th round.

"I'm just pretty excited," Cooper, an Edmonton, Alberta native said. "This is what I've been working for since I got to Mount Olive. It's just a dream come true."

Winning a national championship and witnessing five of his players continue their baseball futures has left Mount Olive head coach Carl Lancaster feeling like a proud parent.

"Every one of them is very deserving," Lancaster said. "This is something they've wanted all their lives, not only to win a national title but to have an opportunity to see what they can do in professional ball. With the success of this club and the one's over the last few years we're now talking to and getting responses from more quality athletes in our recruiting."