06/26/11 — Graduation, draft deplete MOC baseball 'cupboard'

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Graduation, draft deplete MOC baseball 'cupboard'

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on June 26, 2011 1:50 AM

Graduation and surprising departures to the minor leagues has left the Mount Olive College baseball cupboard a little bare these days.

But there are a few "crumbs" left for one of the nation's elite Division II programs. Four starters return, including third baseman Jacob Rogers, who earned All-American honors from three baseball publications this spring.

The unexpected blow came when designated hitter Michael Knox, who has been riddled with injuries throughout his career, officially signed with the St. Louis Cardinals and is playing in the Gulf Coast League. Knox hammered three home runs in his second outing and has four hits overall.

The question mark again will be pitching, though. Carter Capps and Pete Levitt, who many thought would come back for 2012, have headed to the minors. Capps is pitching in the Cape Cod League, while Levitt signed with Chicago and made his first appearance with the Arizona League Rookie team. The 270-pounder threw two innings and yielded one run on three hits.

"Through graduation and draft, we have never been depleted like we are right now," said MOC head coach Carl Lancaster. "It's got us concerned, there is no question about that. We'll try to find a way to reload.

"Pitching is our priority number one, I can tell you that. We've got to find some guys to replace what we lost. We need some big bats. Losing Knox certainly didn't help us."

Just 40 innings of experienced pitching will return next season, making this undoubtedly the youngest staff in Lancaster's illustrious career with the Trojans.

Lancaster said that advancing to the Division II College World Series has been a selling point to recruits. But even he knows that the program's recent success and rich history doesn't necessarily entice that recruit to sign on the dotted line.

With an allotment of 4 1/2 scholarships available, Lancaster must shake the bushes for quality student-athletes.

"We've been fortunate (in recent years)," said Lancaster. "We're definitely going to hit the JUCO route."

Lancaster said that assistant coach Jason Sherrer, who played catcher on the 2008 national championship team, will take over the pitching position vacated by Matt Cruse earlier this season. Sherrer developed a good rapport with the pitchers.

"I thought Jason did a good job," said Lancaster. "The kids enjoyed working him and he took them in the right direction."

Now to find those replacements.