01/30/09 — Three returning starters must lead Trojans

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Three returning starters must lead Trojans

By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on January 30, 2009 1:46 PM

It's with Alex Vertcnik everywhere he goes. When he's either in class, the batting cage or just hanging out with friends, the Mount Olive right fielder and part-time catcher admits he feels the pressure -- and heightened expectations -- that come with winning a national championship.

Vertcnik is one of just three starting position players returning for the preseason No. 1-ranked Trojans.

Gone are first baseman and former Daktronics Division II player of the year Erik Lovett; along with catcher Jason Sherrer, center fielder Josh Harrison, shortstop David Cooper and second baseman Anthony Williams.

Third baseman Rich Racobaldo and outfielder Jesse Lancaster return, and will be counted on -- along with Vertcnik -- to provide leadership to a youth-laden squad. Vertcnik hopes to maintain the consistent offensive output he delivered last season.

"It's kind of a different feeling because we're the preseason No. 1 and there's a lot of pressure and burden to stay sharp," said Vertcnik, who started every game year ago. "Everybody is excited and I'm itching to get out there. We lost some very special players last year. To be able step up and fill those shoes is a big responsibility, but it's something I'm looking forward to."

Vertcnik hit a team-high .416 last season to go with 96 hits, 77 RBI, 76 runs scored and a .623 slugging percentage. The Waukesha, Wis., native became the first-ever Mount Olive student-athlete to earn all-tournament honors in the Conference Carolinas tournament, the South Atlantic Regional and the Division II College World Series.

Lancaster, the Trojans' left fielder, was second on the team in stolen bases a year ago while hitting .347. Racobaldo, the MVP of last year's South Atlantic Regional, finished the season with a .369 average. He produced 89 hits, 57 RBI and a .568 slugging percentage.

Mount Olive head coach Carl Lancaster's main goal for Vertcnik, Jesse Lancaster and Racobaldo is to provide leadership and avoid the temptation to press at the plate.

"That's my biggest concern is that they don't try to do any more," said coach Lancaster. "Sometimes you try to do to more than you're capable of doing and say, 'hey, get on my back and I'm going to take you.'

"Baseball is a game that takes nine guys doing what they need to do."

Developing chemistry will be pivotal during the first month of the season as the Trojans play 14 of their first 18 games on the road. A large part of Mount Olive's run to a championship a year ago was the family-like atmosphere it had in the clubhouse.

With just seven seniors on their 2009 roster, recapturing that togetherness will be a must if the Trojans hope to repeat as national champions.

"That's the main thing. We have a lot of talent on this field we just have to find that chemistry from working together and playing together," said Jesse Lancaster. "I guess we're going to have to find it in a hurry because we're on the road quite a bit and that makes it a bit tougher. I think we'll have it together by then."