05/17/11 — Mount Olive pitching needs to rise

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Mount Olive pitching needs to rise

By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on May 17, 2011 1:47 PM

Carl Lancaster has been waiting for someone in his pitching staff not named Carter Capps or David Combs to step up all season.

Mount Olive's veteran head coach can't wait any longer.

On the brink of the Division II Southeast Regional, the Trojans desperately need consistent innings out of starters Curtis Hudson, Pete Levitt and their bullpen.

Capps, a sophomore right-hander is 12-0 in 13 starts this season with a 1.59 ERA and 110 strikeouts in 96 innings. During his collegiate career, Capps is 22-0 and has issued just 25 walks in 1751/3 innings.

Combs has turned into a reliable option to nail down games in the ninth inning. The Southern Wayne alum lowered his ERA from 5.54 a year ago to 1.89 this season, and is 7-1 in 18 relief appearances with two saves. Combs has recorded 42 strikeouts in 331/3 innings of work and allowed just eight runs.

Combs figures to play a critical role for Mount Olive in the regional. With the potential of playing four consecutive days, limiting the amount of work Combs sees per day could increase his availability over the course of the weekend.

"Combs has done an outstanding job for us all year," said Lancaster. "He's been tremendous at the end of ball games. We can give him the ball every day. Our only concern becomes with asking him to pitch two or three innings a game and then asking him to come back the next day."

Hudson and Levitt have turned in solid performances at this times season, and struggled at other times. Hudson started 5-0, but struggled in the Trojans' win over Limestone in the Conference Carolinas tournament semifinals.

Hudson (5-2) failed to make it out of the third inning and allowed five earned runs on four hits in 22/3 innings during a loss to Catawba in late April.

Levitt (8-2) labored through six innings and threw 100 pitches while allowing two runs in a win in the final game of the Catawba series. Jeremy Hall is 4-0 with a 2.36 ERA, but has made just four starts in 13 appearances. The right-hander has primarily been used in relief in recent outings.

"Hudson and Levitt are at their best when they get ahead of hitters," said Lancaster. "They both struggle when they fall behind and that is when they've gotten in trouble this season. For us to be successful, they both have to give us consistent innings."

Lancaster has not minced words when discussing his bullpen this season. He did not hold back when recently saying his confidence was "low" in his relievers. The Trojans' relievers have thrown just 170 of the 400 total innings Mount Olive pitchers have worked this season.

Expectations were high for Greg McDaniel and Kris Barone entering the season, but the two right-handers have failed to earn Lancaster's trust. McDaniel and Barone have only pitched 17 and 15 innings, respectively, and have allowed a combined 24 runs in 27 appearances. Aside from Combs, no other reliever has pitched in more than 10 games.

Mount Olive has largely earned its prestigious baseball reputation on pitching. Tom Layne, Ryan Schlecht, Casey Hodges, Jonathan Morgan, Ricky Duke and other Trojans' hurlers from the past have set a high precedent and with tradition comes responsibility.

It's time for Mount Olive's pitchers to start living up to it.