04/08/10 — MOC baseball faces key league series

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MOC baseball faces key league series

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on April 8, 2010 2:19 PM

Avoid the sweep.

Mount Olive College takes that philosophy south this weekend for a pivotal, season-ending Conference Carolinas baseball series at nemesis Erskine (S.C.) College.

The winner, undoubtedly, seizes the top seed for next week's league tournament. And, quite possibly, the victor grabs the inside track for an at-large bid in next month's NCAA Division II Southeast Regional.

"We certainly do not need to get swept, I can assure you of that," said veteran MOC head coach Carl Lancaster. "I think whoever wins (the series) will assure themselves of that at-large bid, and it would definitely be nice to not to have to win the (conference) tournament.

"There won't be three teams from our league in the regional. If you have an upset somewhere, a good team is going to get left home. That's really what it boils down to."

The Trojans (32-7 overall) own a half-game lead over the Flying Fleet in the conference standings. MOC has won nine of the last 10 meetings against Erskine and 19 overall in 28 tries since 2002.

There has been just one series sweep by either team during that stretch -- MOC in 2007.

"This series is big, probably bigger to them than us," said Lancaster, who is closing in on 800 career wins. "But, we're on the road and it's really going to be tough. We're going to see how it shakes out because there will be two good teams going at it."

Mount Olive climbed to as high as No. 2 in one national poll, but has steadily dropped within the last three weeks. After starting the season 25-1, the Trojans are just 7-6 since then including a 5-4 worksheet against league competition.

Opposing teams are pitching around heavy hitters Mike Knox (21 home runs) and Jeremy Nowak, who hit safely in a school-record 35 consecutive games. The duo has combined for 35 home runs and a whopping 153 RBI.

Nowak and Knox are batting .485 and .403, respectively.

"The word is out about Knox and Nowak, and the deal is 'these two are not going to beat me'," said Lancaster. "Jesse (Lancaster) and Airlon (Vinson) have done well in this stretch picking up what slack they can for awhile. (Bobby) Leeper and (Dan) Hayduk have been cold, and we've been missing that right now because they've been putting up some really good numbers."

Hayduk (35 RBI) injured his hand in a weekend series against Limestone and his status is unknown for the weekend. Daniel Coffey cranked out six hits in the third game against Limestone, and boosted his batting average to .327.

MOC hits .404 as a team.

Lancaster is confident the Trojans can score.

It's protecting the lead that concerns him.

"Hitting is something you can't control, but pitching is something you can control," said Lancaster. "You have to change speeds and throw strikes in the zone. Some of our front-line guys have one special pitch, but the other two are just ordinary.

"We still need that fourth who wants the ball and that's going to be important in a tournament atmosphere."

Pitchers Carter Capps and Sean Lydon share the team lead with seven victories, while Hudson is 5-1. A junior, Hudson was named the Conference Carolinas pitcher-of-the-week for a six-hit, shutout win over then No. 7-ranked Francis Marion (S.C.).

Charles B. Aycock alum Jackson Massey is 4-1.

The Trojan pitching staff has a team earned run average (ERA) of 3.67 -- tops in the league.