05/16/13 — Lancaster hopes Trojans return to 'old self' in regional

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Lancaster hopes Trojans return to 'old self' in regional

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on May 16, 2013 1:49 PM

Not too many words were said during Sunday afternoon's practice at Scarborough Field.

Mount Olive expected to receive an at-large bid and host the six-team NCAA Division II Southeast Regional. The Trojans went about their business and turned in a long-awaited workman-like session that left head coach Carl Lancaster cautiously optimistic.

The last 25 days have bothered the 26-year veteran.

"We haven't been a real good baseball team since the end of March," he said. "We've been OK, we've been talented, but we haven't played with a passion or any extra energy because I think we knew at that point we were a regional team.

"I haven't liked our chances of winning the regional for the last 25 days or so, I really haven't. Early on, I thought this club had a chance. (After Sunday) I'm looking forward to the old guys showing up and hopefully we didn't take too much time off mentality. This game is so mental, it's unbelievable.

"We'll see Thursday."

The top-seeded Trojans (46-6 overall) face sixth-seeded Lincoln Memorial (26-24) today at Scarborough Field. Game time is 7 p.m.

Conference Carolinas champion Coker (34-14) and Armstrong Atlantic (31-15) met in the opener, while Peach Belt foes USC Aiken (41-11) and Georgia College (33-17) squared off in the mid-afternoon game.

The regional champ earns a trip to the College World Series in Cary.

Mount Olive went 0-2 in last year's regional -- one year after tying for third overall in the 2011 World Series. The two losses, by a total of three runs, have been motivating factors for a team that has a year of experience under its belt.

League rivals Coker and King (Tenn.) poured additional fuel on the fire when they each defeated the favored Trojans in the Conference Carolinas tournament last month. The consecutive defeats snapped MOC's string of three straight tournament crowns.

"Losing a couple of games was probably good for us," senior Mike Mercurio said. "We've seen one side where we've been winning all of these games and haven't experienced the failure. Losing in the conference tournament, the guys saw that we are beatable if we don't play our game.

"That's motivated us again to be 100 percent every day and that's what we've got to do to win this thing, especially against this competition."

The Trojans' success will depend on its top two pitchers -- Matt Dillon and Alex Regan. The duo has combined for 162 strikeouts in 193-plus innings. Regan is the national leader in wins (13), while Dillon is 10-1.

The question mark is the bullpen.

While the group has eaten more than 230 innings this season, no one hurler has stepped into a prominent role. They've combined for seven saves and helped post an earned run average of 3.11 -- the lowest of any team competing in this year's regional.

"Obviously, our bullpen has to step it up a bit from what they've done in the regular season," Lancaster said. "We have a number of guys who will be put out there who might be a little unsure of themselves, and we are as coaches, too. Somebody has to step up and throw some quality innings, that's my fear.

"The last few times we've played, we've gone to multiple guys and they've all done OK, but the level of competition is not the quality we're fixing to see (in the regional)."

Scoring has been an issue at times, too.

During the latter part of the season, opposing teams began to figure out MOC's style of play. Pitchers have avoided getting hitter's counts and prevented the Trojans from aggressively running the bases, which has led to fewer runs and tighter outcomes. Bryan Dunleavey is the team's top thief with 33 stolen bases, but has been thrown out on his last seven attempts.

Mount Olive has scored just 10 total runs in its last 27 innings and has reached double digits twice in its last 10 contests overall.

"People have made us a different team by taking away what we do best," Lancaster said. "Any time you get into the postseason, getting people into scoring position and getting them in is important, I don't care who you are. And you hope the ball bounces your way.

"Someone told me 'good luck' and I said whoever wins this is going to have to have good luck."