01/23/09 — MOC baseball conference preseason No. 1

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MOC baseball conference preseason No. 1

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on January 23, 2009 1:46 PM

MOUNT OLIVE -- Mount Olive ranked No. 1 in the 2009 Conference Carolinas preseason baseball poll?

The news surprised head coach Carl Lancaster.

"Evidently somebody thought a lot of that group we had last year," said Lancaster. "We got put number in the national poll as well, so I guess that had something to do with it. Even though we lost twelve very good players, I guess they think we're capable of reloading and making another run at it again.

"I hope they're right."

The Trojans, the defending NCAA Division II national champions, received eight of nine first-place ballots submitted league coaches. Erskine (S.C.) was picked second, followed by Belmont Abbey, which received the remaining first-place vote.

All three teams advanced to the Division II Southeast Regional last season.

While the Trojans lost eight starters in its lineup, they return three -- junior Jesse Lancaster, and seniors Alex Vertcnik and Rich Racobaldo. Vertcnik emerged the first-ever Trojan student-athlete to earn all-tournament honors in the Conference Carolinas tournament, South Atlantic Regional and national championship last season.

Racobaldo earned MVP honors at the regional.

Mount Olive also returns senior right-hander Kyle Jones and left-handed reliever Paul Novicki. Jones, a transfer from East Carolina, posted a 2-0 record in the postseason and threw a complete-game four-hitter in the regional semifinals against USC Aiken.

"Kyle came on late in the season and Novicki had a good year for us as a reliever," said coach Lancaster, whose team logged a school-record 58 wins last season. "We're counting on Vertcnik, Jesse and Racobaldo to give us the leadership we need. If they go out and play hard every day, I know the other kids will buy into it."

Erskine returns nine starters and 10 pitchers off last year's regional-qualifying team. Back is All-American junior second baseman Chas Anthony, who slugged 18 home runs and drove in 75 runs in 2008. He's joined by all-conference selections Bryan Fogle and Greg Huff, a pair of junior outfielders.

Belmont Abbey returns 13 letter winners, including three all-conference performers -- Michael Raymond, Andrew Morton and Carlos Vasquez. The Crusaders finished 41-22 last season and forced a winner-take-all game against Mount Olive in the Conference Carolinas tournament.

Coaches picked in-state rivals Barton and Pfeiffer to tie for fourth. Anderson (S.C.), Limestone, Coker and St. Andrews rounded out the nine-team poll.