02/04/11 — No. 4-ranked Trojans eager to answer critics' questions

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No. 4-ranked Trojans eager to answer critics' questions

By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on February 4, 2011 1:47 PM

MOUNT OLIVE -- With the usual target on its back and several unanswered questions, Mount Olive College begins its 2011 baseball season in familiar territory.

The Trojans are ranked No. 4 in the nation by Baseball America, No. 7 by Collegiate Baseball and picked to repeat as the Conference Carolinas regular-season champions. MOC finished 40-11 last season and reached the NCAA Division II Southeast Regional.

Catcher Tyler Smith and outfielder Joseph Westbrook are the only holdovers from the Trojans' 2008 national championship team. Dylan Holton and Jeremy Nowak, Mount Olive's two leading hitters from last season, both graduated. Head coach Carl Lancaster even admits there's uncertainty surrounding his pitching staff.

Sophomore right-hander Carter Capps, the Baseball America Division II preseason national player-of-the-year, returns after going 10-0 with a 3.06 earned run average in 2009.

Senior left-hander Curtis Hudson will be back in the starting rotation after compiling a 6-2 record with a 4.13 ERA last season. The remaining spots in the rotation have yet to be locked down. Newcomers Pete Levitt and Greg McDaniel have shown signs of potential, but also flashes of inconsistency in practice.

Returners Shelton Johnson and Chris Hinton, along with freshman Josh Frederick and transfer Jeremy Hall have all shown promise as relievers.

"Right now our pitching is probably our biggest concern," said Lancaster. "We have Carter back and if he can duplicate last season, we'll be fine. Our concern is the consistency of our pitching staff. We've got some guys with potential, the question is are they going to go out there every day and give us their best effort?"

Mount Olive led all of Division II in batting average, runs per game and slugging percentage in 2010. The Trojans ranked in the top three in home runs, home runs per game and total runs scored.

Heavy-hitting junior designated hitter and first baseman Mike Knox returns to the lineup looking to build upon last season in which he hit .378 with 24 home runs and 94 RBI. Knox and Nowak were both first-team All Americans in 2010.

Infielder Daniel Coffey has swung a hot bat during preseason practices and transfer third baseman Jacob Rodgers should provide some offensive pop. Outfielder Antonio Callaway, a transfer from Chattahoochie Valley Community College, is described by Lancaster as "probably one of the most legitimate base stealers we've had in a while."

Division II baseball has transitioned to aluminum bats for the 2011 season that cause the ball to leave the bat with a similar exit speed to that of wooden bats.

"We have to be a team that gets people in scoring position for the big boys," said Lancaster. "With the new bats, it's going to be hard to hit 80-some home runs like we're accustomed to. I think you'll see home runs cut down throughout the whole country."

The Trojans begin the season with a three-game series at Lenoir-Rhyne this weekend. Mount Olive's first seven contests are all on the road before its home opener on Feb. 16 against Shaw. The Trojans begin conference play Feb. 26 at home against St. Andrews.

"You never know at this point how you'll respond," said Lancaster. "We start with seven games on the road against talented clubs. I can see this team having some bumps in the road early. I feel like before the season is over you'll see a good ballclub."