Mount Olive baseball preview
By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on February 2, 2012 1:48 PM
A pitching staff that has more questions than answers. A lineup absent of a power hitter.
Picked second in the Conference Carolinas preseason poll.
The Mount Olive College baseball team definitely finds itself in unfamiliar territory heading into this season.
The Trojans, ranked No. 5 in Collegiate Baseball's preseason listing, lost 15 players -- including three Major League Amateur Draft selections -- from a year ago. They're tabbed to finish behind Limestone College in the regular-season conference poll.
Despite those predictions and what doubters may say, head coach Carl Lancaster believes that, in time, his team will be just fine.
"Limestone is returning a tremendous pitching staff and they're a big concern to us," Lancaster said. "Everybody is looking at us that between graduation and the guys we had drafted, that we lost 15 guys and that it's going to be tough to be able to repeat as regular-season and conference tournament champs.
"I don't think the first four weeks is going to decide how this team is going to be. We just have to keep our confidence up and know we're trying to get better every day."
MOC finished 47-10 overall last season.
Gone are Carter Capps, Pete Levitt, Jeremy Hall, Curtis Hudson and David Combs -- pitchers who each played integral roles during the Trojans' Division II College World Series run last spring.
Lancaster expects to use the "pitcher by committee" approach to give his unproven hurlers valuable experience during the early part of the season. Jake Moser, a right-handed senior transfer from Clarke College, has claimed the No. 1 starter spot in practice. At 6-foot-3, Moser possesses a live fastball and good command of his pitches.
Eastern Wayne alum Josh Frederick, and transfers Matt Dillon and Zach Smith are competing for roles in the starting rotation. One of the three will be used as the first reliever out of the bullpen. Lancaster's son Nolan, Princeton alum Chris Hinton and Brunswick Community College transfers Talton Cherry and Ryan Poplin are being counted on to eat up innings out of the bullpen.
Also lost from a year ago were slugger Mike Knox, left fielder Jason Simone and veteran catcher Tyler Smith. Mount Olive's offense should be predicated on speed rather than power in 2012 with several legitimate base stealers in the mix. Antonio Callaway returns to the outfield. Greene Central grad Will Bynum, transfer Matt Patrone and Brian Dunlavey will also see time defensively.
Senior Daniel Coffey is back at first base and is joined on the infield by second baseman Bradon Reitano and Cameron Sherrer, shortstop Mike Marcurio and third baseman Jacob Rogers. Nick Gaeta and Geno Escalante are expected to split time behind the plate. Daniel Oliver will also see time at first base and in the designated hitter's spot.
The Trojans open their season Saturday with a doubleheader against Lenoir-Rhyne at Scarborough Field. MOC has non-conference games with Wingate, LeMoyne and Francis Marion University before starting conference play against Belmont Abbey in late February.
Despite the new faces and experience still to be gained, the expectations within Mount Olive's clubhouse remain the same.
"The expectations we place on you here are high," Lancaster said. "We tell our guys this is the level we always try to play at and you better work hard because the guys in the dugout can take your place. We expect to compete at a very high level and you better bring your 'A' game."
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