05/16/11 — Senoirs Westbrook and Smith have matured

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Senoirs Westbrook and Smith have matured

By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on May 16, 2011 1:47 PM

Tyler Smith and Joseph Westbrook won't just be taking with them college degrees and four years worth of memories when they leave Mount Olive College.

They'll be taking the last remaining links to the crown jewel of the Trojans' storied baseball history. Both were freshmen on Mount Olive's 2008 national championship team and are the last players in the program remaining from that season.

Smith, a catcher and North Lenoir graduate, and Westbrook, an outfielder from Edenton, learned from David Cooper, Erik Lovett, Casey Hodges, Josh Harrison, Jason Sherrer and the handful of other leaders on the Trojans' championship squad.

An emphasis on work ethic, playing the game the right way and a strong team chemistry were integral parts of Mount Olive's success four years ago. Those key ingredients continue to resonate with Smith and Westbrook.

"I had the opportunity to learn from some great guys," said Westbrook. "I've just taken that and applied that to my work ethic and everything else. I've always led by example, but I've tried to be more of a vocal guy. Tyler and I are two of the older guys, and if no one else is going to do it then we've got to do it.

"We can't rely on some of the younger guys that haven't been here."

Smith admitted to arriving at Mount Olive with maturing to do. During his time in a Trojans' uniform he has developed into a solid defensive catcher, has learned how to handle a pitching staff and is hitting .366 this season.

"I came here as a freshman and a bunch of seniors showed me the ropes," said Smith. "When I came in I thought baseball was just a game. I've just matured and I've become a better person, and I'm more responsible. I've become more of a leader and I've tried to lead by example in my four years here."

Westbrook saw little playing time his freshman season before an injury to second baseman Anthony Williams opened the door for Westbrook to contribute. He responded with a three-run home run in a comeback win over Ashland in the second round of the Division II College World Series.

Mount Olive head coach Carl Lancaster describes Westbrook as a consummate leader on and off the field. Never one to shy away from the weight room or the batting cage, Westbrook has reaped the benefits of hard work. This season, he is batting .331 with 33 RBI.

Four years ago, Smith and Westbrook were wide-eyed freshmen along for a magical ride that ended with a celebratory dogpile, national championship rings and stories to tell their grandchildren. Now, the harsh reality of their numbered days as baseball players has begun to set in.

"To think that these could be the last games I ever play, I try not to think about that," said Westbrook. "I more or less try to work hard and keep my teammates going. We're not all going to get the opportunity to go on and play, but we want to play as long as we can and enjoy this moment as much as we can."

Whenever the Trojans play their last game in 2011, it won't just be the end of another season. It won't be simply the end of the baseball careers of Tyler Smith and Joseph Westbrook.

For Mount Olive, it is the end of an era.