Trojans win 5th straight Conference Carolinas regular-season baseball title
By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on April 19, 2014 11:30 PM
TIGERVILLE, S.C. -- The season could have gone sour in mid-March for the University of Mount Olive baseball team.
The Trojans couldn't find their identity. Returning starters failed in their duties and one key performer served a 30-game suspension. The role players struggled on a daily basis.
Head coach Carl Lancaster felt less than optimistic about his team's chances of living up to its No. 1 ranking in the preseason Conference Carolinas poll.
One weekend series changed Lancaster's outlook.
And the Trojans' season.
Mount Olive defeated No. 23-ranked and long-time nemesis Erskine (S.C.) twice in a best-of-three battle. The doubleheader sweep started a 19-game win streak that ended where Lancaster hoped his team would be one month later -- atop the conference standings.
The No. 14-ranked Trojans (36-11 overall) earned a twinbill sweep of North Greenville (S.C.) University on Friday, and grabbed their fifth consecutive regular-season conference championship. They secured the No. 1 seed for the league's postseason tournament, which begins Thursday at Burlington Athletic Stadium.
"I'm very happy for this team because things could have gone sour on us," Lancaster said. "We pride ourselves on being tough and grinding it out when we have to, and this team did. It wasn't just necessarily on the field.
"I've never been more happier with a group in my whole career."
Bradon Reitano and Rob Shipman combined for five home runs during 19-0 and 8-3 triumphs over North Greenville. Shipman batted 6-for-6, drew three walks and recorded a perfect 1.000 on-base percentage during the two-game set.
Reitano provided three hits and five RBI. Lead-off man Jay Gonzalez cranked out five hits and four RBI. Overall, the Trojans ripped North Greenville's pitching staff for 27 runs on 33 hits in 16 innings of action.
UMO left-hander Gunnar Kines (7-1) emerged as the winning pitcher in the opener. He logged seven strikeouts, and retired the Crusaders in order in the fourth and fifth innings.
Hunter Barnett tossed three innings of four-strikeout scoreless relief. Adam Kirkpatrick posted two strikeouts in the ninth inning.
In game two, senior southpaw Derek Justice (8-1) permitted 11 hits in a complete-game effort. He recorded eight strikeouts, issued one walk and became the conference's first eight-game winner on the mound this season.
"We had to figure out with this team with all the new faces and guys we were counting on who didn't do things right ... had to take what we had left over and get them in the right place," said Lancaster, whose team compiled an 18-2 worksheet against conference opposition this spring.
"We just decided to play with what we've got and everybody stepped it up, especially our pitching staff. They have been impressive and filled some voids that we had. We've turned this is into a pretty darn good season."
And it's not over.
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