04/05/12 — Mount Olive baseball finally fitting together

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Mount Olive baseball finally fitting together

By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on April 5, 2012 1:49 PM

Mount Olive head baseball coach Carl Lancaster had no clue how the pieces that are his players would all fit together in the puzzle just two months ago.

The Trojans lost 15 players off last year's team, were picked to finish second in the Conference Carolinas preseason poll and Lancaster was left with the task of getting a number of new faces to blend together.

With Mount Olive currently in the midst of an 18-game winning streak, the uncertainty that surrounded Lancaster's squad entering the season has blossomed into budding confidence.

The Trojans (29-6, 15-2 CC) began the year with uncertainty around the infield, numerous unanswered questions among the pitching staff and holes left in the lineup by graduation.

Transfers Cameron Sherrer, Mike Mercurio and Jermaine Berry have been pleasant surprises at second base, shortstop and third base, respectively. Berry began the week with a team-high batting average of .435 and was second on the club in RBI with 38. Sherrer has provided a reliable glove at second base and continues to flourish as Mount Olive's eight-hole hitter with a .367 average. Mercurio has developed into a spark plug at the top of the Trojans' lineup with a .323 average, 32 RBI and 19 stolen bases.

"The big key I think is Cameron Sherrer," Lancaster said. "He's locked in on both sides of the ball. He's sitting in the eight hole and he's just loving it."

Junior catcher and designated hitter Geno Escalante has been a major reason for the Trojans' recent success. Escalante has hit safely in 26 consecutive games and his .424 batting average trails only Berry for the team lead. The California native and Chipola College transfer has demonstrated the ability to hit the ball to all fields, has turned in multiple towering home runs and is a consistent run producer with 41 RBI.

Senior Jacob Rogers has made life difficult on opposing pitchers who must navigate past the All-American and all-conference selection from a year ago before facing Escalante. Rogers has compiled a .417 batting average and 45 RBI.

Mount Olive has received quality innings out of starting pitchers Matt Dillon, Zach Smith and Jake Moser. The Trojans have a 3.22 earned run average as a team. Dillon, Smith and Moser combined to pitch three complete games in Mount Olive's three-game sweep of Erskine over the weekend.

"We're going to score runs, there's no question," Lancaster said. "The key for us is to continue to play defense like we are playing and we've come a long ways. I don't know how far we can go and it depends on the pitching staff period."

Mount Olive visits preseason conference favorite Limestone for a three-game series this weekend. With the invaluable confidence that comes from having a team full of players comfortable in their own roles and the swagger of a 17-game winning streak in its back pocket, the Trojans' finally look like a team ready to embrace expectations rather than be overwhelmed by them.