05/14/13 — Stinging loss on home field fuels Trojans

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Stinging loss on home field fuels Trojans

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on May 14, 2013 1:47 PM

Watching a team dogpile on your home field is an unforgettable feeling that stings within the depths of your soul.

Mike Mercurio hasn't forgotten that moment.

Mount Olive College went "two-and-cue" during the 2012 NCAA Division II Southeast Regional, and instead of letting the players head home for the summer, head coach Carl Lancaster made them stick around until the final day.

Catawba won the regional title.

"Big-time bitter taste," Mercurio said. "That's the thing that's pushing us ... not a practice or a game, but (last year's) regional. (We) remember that regional and remember that feeling.

"To see them dogpile on our field and have that vision of what we could have had, that stung a lot watching it. It's motivated a lot of us, a lot of guys have changed completely and are ready to go."

The top-seeded Trojans' road to redemption starts Thursday evening against South Atlantic Conference tournament champ Lincoln Memorial (Tenn.). First pitch is 7 p.m. at Scarborough Field.

First-time regional participant Coker (S.C.) College opposes perennial Peach Belt Conference power Armstrong Atlantic State (Ga.) University in the opener at 11 a.m. PBC tournament champ Georgia College and USC Aiken play the afternoon game at 3 o'clock.

The regional champion advances to the College World Series at the USA Baseball National Training Center in Cary.

"The good thing is the wait is finally over," Mount Olive College head coach Carl Lancaster said. "You look at it, all three conferences in this region, none of the teams won it that were supposed to, not a single one of us.

"Aiken is probably more talented than all the rest of us. I know they are, especially on the mound. They've got 11 guys (all pitchers) on a Division II baseball team that are being seriously considered in the (amateur) draft. They are the elite team in my mind because of that."

Second-seeded USC Aiken (41-11 overall) is making its first regional appearance since 2009. The Pacers finished regional runners-up in 2008 and 2009, and are one of seven PBC programs to advance to the College World Series in the league's 23-year history.

Third-seeded AASU is making its second consecutive regional appearance and 14th overall. The Pirates (31-15) haven't won a regional crown since 1994.

Fourth-seeded Coker (34-14) emerged the automatic qualifier from Conference Carolinas and handed Mount Olive one of its two losses in tournament play. Fifth-seeded Georgia College (33-17) returns to the regional for the first time since 2010 when it advanced to the CWS.

Lincoln Memorial (26-24) is a first-time participant and has never faced Mount Olive on the baseball diamond. The Trojans (46-6) have compiled a 132-45 record all-time against SAC schools since 1994.

"The thing about us is we've got to dial it up a notch," Lancaster said. "We've got to play more, I hate to say it, like Coker did against us in the tournament. Boy, they were everywhere. This team is a business-like team, go out and do their thing.

"But, when you get to this point, good players play great and OK players play good. We didn't do that in the tournament."

Now the second chance is here.