07/13/08 — Former Trojans finding their way in minors

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Former Trojans finding their way in minors

By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on July 13, 2008 2:01 AM

Seven former Mount Olive College baseball players all on separate rosters and playing in different minor league ballparks this summer remain held together by one common goal -- making it to 'the show.'

Southern Wayne product Erik Lovett, along with former Trojans pitchers Casey Hodges, Ryan Schlecht, Michael Williams and shortstop David Cooper are all living their dreams of playing professional baseball while honing their skills in the minor leagues.

Ex-Mount Olive teammates Jason Sherrer and Weston Curles are currently playing independent minor league ball.

Lovett has struggled to adjust to minor league pitching this season hitting .200 for the Class-A Staten Island Yankees entering Saturday's action. The first baseman had struck out 11 times in 25 at-bats and failed to hit a home run, something that was once a staple of his arsenal at Mount Olive.

"Erik has always been a streaky hitter," Mount Olive head coach Carl Lancaster said. "He got off to a slow start and now I think he's started doing some platooning. Now that he's gotten in that role it can be hard to get on a hot streak."

After allowing two runs over eight innings to earn the win in the Division II National Championship game against Ouachita Baptist, Hodges has carried that momentum over to the Danville Braves of the Appalachian League.

Hodges pitched the second game of a doubleheader on Thursday against the Bluefield Orioles. The Rocky Mount, Va. Native tossed a complete game in the seven inning contest allowing just two hits while striking out eight to earn the win and improve his record to 3-1 with an 0.60 ERA.

Using philosophies taught to him by Mount Olive pitching coach Aaron Akin, Hodges has relied primarily on his fastball while sparingly mixing in off-speed pitches to be successful.

"I've been keeping the ball down and spotting my fastball," Hodges said. "Honestly I've been pitching the same way I would be at Mount Olive, I've just mainly been locating my fastball and I really haven't thrown that many off-speed pitches. It seems to be working for us here and it worked for our whole team at Mount Olive."

Schlecht, tied for first in Division II in wins with a 13-0 record in 2008 and was used primarily as a starter at Mount Olive. The first team All-American from Scottsdale, Ariz., has been used mainly out of the bullpen for the Spokane Indians posting a 2-1 record with a 2.08 ERA in seven relief appearances.

Williams, a transfer to Mount Olive from Francis Marion, was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates and has no record with a 3.18 ERA in three relief appearances for the State College (PA) Spikes.

The Canadian born Cooper, a speedy leadoff hitter and shortstop at Mount Olive, has tallied just a .173 average in 17 games for the Yakima Bears. However, Cooper has drawn 22 walks in 52 at-bats.

"All of our guys are seeing better pitching," Lancaster said. "They're never going to get at-bat where they're not being challenged."

Sherrer, went undrafted following the season and has since signed with the Winnipeg Goldeyes, joining former Mount Olive catcher Dustin Richardson on the Winnipeg roster. Sherrer was hitting .180 with five RBI's in 50 at-bats.

Curles signed with the Traverse City (MI) Beach Bums in early July and allowed two runs over five innings to earn the win in his debut. After taking the loss in his second start Curles is now 1-1 with a 7.27 ERA.

Six Trojans that are scheduled to return next season are spending their summers playing in the Coastal Plain League, while Canadian native Dylan Holton is on the diamond for the Lethbridge Bulls of the Western Major Baseball League north of the border.

Reliever Pat Ball and outfielder Alex Vertcnik have both seen time this summer with the Fayetteville Swampdogs.

Ball has a 12.86 ERA in five appearances. Vertcnik's season with the Swampdogs has come to a conclusion due to a knee injury, but the Wisconsin native should be ready to go when Mount Olive opens its 2009 season.

Hurler Kyle Jones and third baseman Rich Racobaldo are playing for the Coastal Plain League's Forest City Owls. Jones is 0-1 with a 3.66 ERA in 10 appearances, nine of which came in relief. Racobaldo is hitting .288 win 104 at-bats with 21 RBI's and three homers.

Paul Novicki and future Trojan T.J. Hinson have aided the cause of the Wilson Tobs this summer. Hinson has compiled a 3-1 record with a 5.40 ERA in six appearances, while Novicki is 1-1 with a 5.56 ERA in nine appearances.

Holton has tallied a .291 average in 82 at-bats with going 7-for-8 in stolen base attempts.