03/09/12 — Conference Carolinas preview

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Conference Carolinas preview

By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on March 9, 2012 1:48 PM

Mount Olive knows that preseason polls are nothing more than someone's opinion. Conference championships speak for themselves.

For the first time in recent memory, the Trojans were not picked to win the Conference Carolinas regular-season crown this spring. MOC, instead, is tabbed to finish behind Limestone (S.C.) College.

The Saints received 59 points and three first-place votes in the poll. The Trojans finished with 58 points and five first-place votes. Mount Olive defeated Limestone in the 2010 tournament final.

The Saints went 34-18 a year ago, including a 14-6 mark in conference play. Limestone returns five pitchers, including junior Cam Ward, who went 9-2 in 2011 and was a first-team all-conference selection.

Mount Olive compiled a 47-10 record last season and tied for third at the 2011 Division III College World Series in Cary. The Trojans lost 15 players off that team to either graduation or the Major League Amateur Draft.

Preseason All-American pick Jacob Rogers returns at third base along with first baseman Daniel Coffey. Also back are catcher/designated hitter Nick Gaeta and outfielder Antonio Callaway.

The Trojans are 4-1 in conference play thus far.

Playing primarily on the weekend thus far has limited head coach Carl Lancaster and his coaching staff's ability to truly assess the depth of their bullpen and bench.

"I think that not having any mid-week games up to this point in the season has really hurt us," Lancaster said. "It is hard to find a role for all of your pitchers when you only play three games on the weekends. With most of the weekend series being against quality opponents or conference opponents, you have to run your best three starters out there and use the guys you know in the bullpen.

"So we haven't gotten to see as much of some of the new guys as we would like."

With seven conference series remaining on the schedule, Lancaster is fully confident in his team's ability to reach its full potential before its annual journey to Wilson in pursuit of another conference tournament crown.

Mount Olive currently boasts a 9-4 overall record.

"I have definitely not given up on this group of guys because I think it's a talented group and a group with a lot of potential," Lancaster said. "I still think there is time as conference play gets going for us to fix some of the little things that have hurt us and for us to get on a little bit of a roll."