05/18/11 — Talented teams, players present good challenge at regional

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Talented teams, players present good challenge at regional

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on May 18, 2011 1:47 PM

The team names and records slid onto the empty lines.

Mount Olive College head baseball coach Carl Lancaster studied each one as the announcer fired off statistics and accomplishments of each school. To no one's surprise, especially not Lancaster, the Southeast Regional is once again loaded with talented teams.

There are five Tino Martinez Award semifinalists -- MOC's Carter Capps and Mike Knox, Wingate's Dodson McPherson; and Francis Marion's duo of Don Sandifer and Buddy Sosnoskie.

There are two former national champions -- Columbus State (2002) and Mount Olive (2008).

"It's one of the top two toughest regions in the country, no question about it," said Lancaster. "It's going to be some good baseball if they all show up and play like they're capable of playing. Any of the six teams here can win it and the sad thing is only one team can win.

"I think there are three or four teams here that are capable of winning the whole thing."

Opening-round play begins Thursday at Scarborough Field on the Mount Olive College campus. Peach Belt Conference champion UNC Pembroke (42-10 overall) takes on conference member Columbus State at 11 a.m.

Second-seeded Francis Marion (37-14) opposes Catawba (40-13) in the mid-afternoon game at 3 o'clock. The No. 2-ranked Trojans, who are hosting their third regional since 2007, battle sixth-seeded Wingate at 7 p.m.

The double-elimination tournament continues through Sunday. The survivor advances to the College World Series at the USA National Baseball Training Complex in Cary.

"It comes down to the team that gets the breaks at this point," said Lancaster. "Your starting pitchers have to go deep into games and give you quality outings. Anybody who doesn't get a quality start, you burn your bullpen and against difficult teams like this, it will be tough (to survive)."

According to NCAA statistics, UNC Pembroke has the nation's seventh-best pitching staff with an earned run average of 2.45. Francis Marion, led by PBC pitcher-of-the-year Sandifer, is ninth at 2.54.

Mount Olive, with preseason All-America candidate Carter Capps, is 15th overall with a 2.86 ERA.

"It's not like you're going to have a ton of baserunners throughout the entire game at this point (of the year)," said Lancaster. "If you can put some runs up early, that gives your team a little comfort zone where they can relax a bit. If you five or six innings ... grind it, then all of a sudden you start to get tight at the plate.

"I don't think anyone is going to be playing for big innings right out of the chute."

Lancaster expects to see a different Wingate team. The Trojans (41-7) swept the regular-season series in late February on their home diamond.

McPherson, the South Atlantic player-of-the-year, bats in the middle part of the lineup along with Casey Allison and Brian Yeung. The trio has combined for 42 home runs for a team that has yet to lose at a neutral site this season.

Sophomore right-hander Justin Somers, a Wilmington Laney alum, is 7-3 on the hill with a 2.56 ERA. Left-hander Chris Nelson, a Chowan University transfer, has fashioned a 3.58 ERA in 78 innings of work.

"They've got three guys in their lineup who are extremely dangerous," said Lancaster. "(Somers) is very good and Nelson, he's not a fiery guy, but can change speeds and locate (pitches) in and out. With the three horses they have in the middle, we have to play good defense so they don't come up with people on base."

Mount Olive has triumphed in 12 of its last 14 outings, and has found its swagger at the plate again. But the Trojans will compete without Knox, who broke his hand in practice earlier this season.

"We've got to come out ready to go, and relax," said Lancaster, who has 841 career victories. "We need have to have a little pep in our step and make those routine plays. We don't want to change our approach in terms of our mental aspect."