04/13/11 — Favored Trojans struggling at plate

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Favored Trojans struggling at plate

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on April 13, 2011 1:47 PM

Question marks surrounded the Mount Olive College pitching staff in the offseason, and those worries have been answered.

Now, the pendulum has swung in the other direction. Hitting has emerged a concern during the last two Conference Carolinas series, and Trojans head coach Carl Lancaster hopes his team can escape its late-season funk Thursday.

Top-seeded MOC launches defense of its conference tournament championship Thursday against archrival Barton College. First pitch is 7 p.m. at venerable Fleming Stadium.

In other opening-round games, third-seeded Belmont Abbey opposes fourth-seeded Pfeiffer at 11 a.m. Second-seeded Limestone and fifth-seeded Erskine square off in the afternoon contest at 3 p.m.

The six-team, double-elimination event concludes Sunday, and the tournament champ secures the automatic bid to the NCAA Southeast Regional. The No. 3-ranked Trojans (30-6 overall) are seeking their second straight regional appearance and third since winning the NCAA Division II World Series in 2008.

"It's not going to be easy at all," said Lancaster. "Barton, we had to grind out some wins over at their place. Getting by that first game is going to be important and we certainly can't go over there, lose two and go home."

Mount Olive has pushed just six runs across the plate in the last 16 innings, and logged a 2-3 worksheet in its last five outings on the diamond. Two losses occurred against Belmont Abbey in walk-off fashion, and the Trojans earned a 2-1 split against nemesis Erskine to close out regular-season play.

"Offensively, we've been good all year except for the last two weeks," said Lancaster. "It's hard to put a finger on it. We have had the opportunity to consistently score runs, but we'd hit a chopper in the infield or pop-up in the infield with runners on third.

"We've been working hard this week to get out of that offensive funk we're in. Hopefully we can go over there and swing it like we're used to (swinging it)."

The Trojans are batting .350 as a team and average 8.9 runs per contest. Preseason All-American Mike Knox is just one of two players to start and play in all 36 contests for MOC, and has cranked out 15 home runs this season. Jacob Rogers leads the team with 40 RBI.

The MOC pitching staff has compiled a 2.82 earned run average (ERA), led by preseason All-America Carter Capps. The North Lenoir alum is 18-0 in his career, and has posted a 1.92 ERA on the mound this season in 11 appearances.

"It's hard to tell if they feel any pressure," said Lancaster. "They don't act like it, but they're certainly playing like it. At this point, you have to pitch it well, play good defense and score runs when you get the opportunity."