05/15/11 — Mount Olive's offense must produce

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Mount Olive's offense must produce

By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on May 15, 2011 1:51 AM

Mount Olive steamrolled into the NCAA Division II Southeast Regional a year ago at Francis Marion on fire offensively.

The Trojans averaged 11.8 runs per game and had scored double-digit runs 29 times in 38 outings.

But the offense misfired in the regional. Mount Olive scored just five runs and was eliminated in three games. The Trojans' top five hitters in the lineup combined to go 10 for 42 at the plate.

As a team, Mount Olive was an anemic 20 for 94 with 19 strikeouts.

"We were expected to go in there and hit the ball the way we had been," said senior right fielder Joseph Westbrook. "Our pitchers went out there and dominated and our offense struggled. We've got to stay focused and locked in on what it is we've got to do.

"We can't have that happen again."

The Trojans enter this season's Southeast Regional scrambling to reshuffle a lineup that has suddenly lost its biggest home run threat -- junior designated hitter Mike Knox.

Knox suffered a broken hand after being hit by a pitch in a recent practice and his out for the remainder of the season. He had started in all 48 games this season.

The right-handed slugger hit 22 home runs with 56 RBI and a .363 batting average. His 46 career home runs are a school record.

Left fielder Jason Simone and third baseman Jacob Rogers have provided consistent production in front of and behind Knox in Mount Olive's lineup all season.

Simone, a senior transfer from SUNY Courtland, has hit .416 with 40 RBI and only five strikeouts. A free-swinger with only nine walks in 161 at-bats, Simone can expect to see less good pitches to hit in the regional with Knox out of the lineup.

"Usually, other teams are worried about Knox so I see a lot of fastballs," said Simone. "Now that he's out, they might try to pitch around me a little bit. I've got to be more patient up there because I usually swing at anything that's close because I don't like to get behind. I think I'll see more off-speed pitches and I've got to be a little more picky and get a good pitch to hit."

Rogers, a transfer from St. Petersburg College, has fit it in well at third base and is hitting .422 with 47 RBI. His .681 slugging percentage is the second highest on the team behind Knox. The junior could possibly slide into Knox's normal third spot in the Trojans' batting order behind Simone.

"We're not really sure how the lineup is going to work out," said Rogers. "Everybody has done a good job this season of figuring out their roles. We're all from different schools and I thinking we're starting to gel well."

Mount Olive head coach Carl Lancaster anticipates using catcher Nick Gaeta in Knox's designated hitter spot while possibly giving Greene Central alum Will Bynum a few more at-bats.

"We learned in last year's regional that we've got to get better at playing small ball," said Lancaster. "Those teams we faced are very good at manufacturing runs and moving runners over. Bynum gives us another base stealer and some different options offensively."