04/29/11 — Stakes high for MOC

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Stakes high for MOC

By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on April 29, 2011 1:47 PM

MOUNT OLIVE -- Mount Olive has a certain sense of comfort in knowing it controls its own destiny.

Just how much of that destiny it controls remains to be seen.

The Trojans, ranked No. 1 in the latest NCAA Division II Baseball Southeast Region Poll, play host to No. 2-ranked Catawba in a three-game series on Saturday and Sunday at Scarborough Field. The two teams are scheduled to play a doubleheader at 4 p.m. on Saturday and conclude the series at 1 p.m. on Sunday.

Mount Olive won the Conference Carolinas tournament and automatically qualified for the Southeast Regional which takes place May 19-22, and could play host to the six-team regional. The Trojans could solidify their stake with a sweep of the Indians this weekend, but Mount Olive head coach Carl Lancaster isn't completely convinced that would be enough.

"This is a huge series in a lot of people's eyes," said Lancaster. "The sad thing is we don't know exactly what we have to do. If we sweep Catawba we might host, but then we would probably have to play them in the regional. It's tough to beat somebody three times and then have to turn around and play them again.

"If we win one this weekend we're on the bubble and if we lose three, I know we won't host. I feel like we need to win at least two."

Mount Olive (37-6 overall) has won eight consecutive games and averaged eight runs a contest during that stretch. Junior designated hitter Mike Knox leads the Trojans with 21 home runs, and has a school-record 45 for his career. Knox, Jacob Rogers, Nick Gaeta and Jason Simone all have batting averages of .366 or higher.

"Offense, that stuff is contagious," said Lancaster. "When you look at the games from the conference tournament, if the guys at the top of our order got on, we were hitting that day. Baseball is such a mental game, you've got to take the field prepared to play as hard as you possibly can. That's what our guys did in the tournament and I expect to see that again this weekend."

Catawba (39-11) lost to Wingate in the finals of the South Atlantic Conference tournament and dropped a 10-3 decision to UNC Pembroke on Thursday. The Indians have won 12 of their last 15 games entering this weekend. Chris Dula leads the Indians with a .395 batting average and has 73 hits and 58 RBI while starting all 49 games.

Sophomore left-hander Nick Lomascolo and junior right-hander J.J. Jankowski both have recorded eight wins on the mound. Each has an earned run average (ERA) under 3.00. Jankowski has tallied 102 strikeouts in 84 2/3 innings.

"They have several real, real good arms," said Lancaster. "We tried to sign Jankowski last summer, but we got on him late. We're going to have to play better defense than what we have been playing lately. Hopefully we can get quality outings out of our pitching staff, and scratch out a run here and there.

"I think it will be a great series between two clubs with very rich baseball tradition."