01/06/09 — MOC baseball receives No. 1 ranking

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MOC baseball receives No. 1 ranking

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on January 6, 2009 1:50 PM

MOUNT OLIVE -- A historical ending has led a benchmark beginning.

Mount Olive College, which won the NCAA Division II national baseball championship last June, starts the 2009 season ranked No. 1 in the preseason Collegiate Baseball magazine top 40 poll.

It's the first-ever such billing for any team in Trojan athletics.

"Being No. 1 is a great honor, but there is only way to go and that's down so we have to maintain that position," said sophomore outfielder Joseph Westbrook. "It's exciting because you know you're going to get everybody's best shot, so you have to respond."

Coming off a record-setting 58-win season, Mount Olive received 640 points -- 22 more than perennial powerhouse Tampa (Fla.) Central Missouri, UC San Diego and 2007 national runner-up Columbus State (Ga.) University round out the top five.

The second five are Southern Arkansas, Cal State Chico, Emporia State, Ouachita (Ark.) Baptist and USC Aiken. The Trojans defeated Ouachita twice in the national tournament and upended USC Aiken to claim the Southeast Regional.

"You look around and see the billboards and think 'I was part of that'," said senior left-handed pitcher Craig Beasley. "It's kind of cool, especially when people don't know about it and see your ring."

Mount Olive plays 14 of its first 18 games on the road and opens the season Feb. 1 at Armstrong Atlantic State (Ga.) University. The Trojans will also play contests at Lenoir-Rhyne, archrival Barton, Anderson (S.C.) and USCA during that stretch.

Overall, five of Mount Olive's 2009 opponents are ranked in the preseason poll -- USCA (10th), Tusculum (22), Catawba (29), Francis Marion (33) and Erskine (36). Belmont Abbey, the 2008 Conference Carolinas tournament runner-up and regional qualifier, appeared in the others receiving votes portion of the poll.

"We've got a tough region and they put the South Atlantic Conference in our region this year," said Beasley. "We always play them and the games meant something to us, but weren't region games. Now, we lose those games and that hurts our chances to host regionals again which is one of our goals."

The Trojans' home opener is Feb. 10 against SAC member Wingate.