Mount Olive Ranked In Pre-Season Baseball Poll

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Mount Olive, which came within one game of reaching the national finals last year, is ranked No. 6 in the 2008 Collegiate Baseball Division II Preseason Poll. Returning players include first baseman and Daktronics Division II National Player of the Year Erik Lovett.

Mount Olive set a school record for wins by posting a 49-13 record in 2007. The Trojans won the Carolinas-Virginia Athletics Conference (now Conference Carolinas) regular season title with a 20-3 mark and won four straight games to capture their second consecutive conference tournament title.

The top-seeded Trojans played host to last year's NCAA II South Atlantic Regional, becoming the first Mount Olive team in any sport to host an NCAA championship. Mount Olive won its first three games by a combined score of 15-2, including a one-hit shutout by Casey Hodges against nationally ninth-ranked Georgia College and State. The Trojans fell to Columbus State twice on the final day and were denied their first-ever trip to the national finals.

Lovett hit .403 last season and finished among the top 10 in the nation with 21 home runs, 80 runs batted in and an .810 slugging percentage. Lovett's home run and rbi totals and slugging percentage were all school records. Hodges posted a 7-1 record last year with a 2.08 earned run average. He earned All-Tournament honors at the South Atlantic Regional and CVAC Tournament.

Along with seniors Hodges and Lovett, the Trojans also return two-time All-South Atlantic Region shortstop David Cooper. The senior is already Mount Olive's all-time leader in career triples and holds single-season records in stolen bases and runs scored. Mount Olive also brings back senior catcher Jason Sherrer, who ranked fifth on the team in home runs with seven. Sherrer's two-out game-tying rbi-single in the top of the ninth forced extra innings in the Trojans' 10-inning victory over Armstrong Atlantic State in the second round of last year's regional.

Also returning are All-Conference starting pitcher Darrell Ellis and All-Conference closer Patrick Ball, as well as two-time All-Conference designated hitter/outfielder Josh Harrison. The Trojans also regain the services of two pitchers who missed time due to injuries: 2004 All-CVAC Tournament selection Weston Curles and 2006 CVAC Freshman of the Year Jesse Lancaster.

Mount Olive garnered 542 points in the poll to finish 44 points behind No. 5 Abilene Christian (Texas) and six points ahead of Franklin Pierce (N.H.) and Tusculum (Tenn.), which tied at No. 7. Defending national champion Tampa (Fla.) is No. 1 in the preseason poll, followed by last year's national runner-up Columbus State (Ga.).

The Trojans equal their highest ranking of 2007 as they peaked at No. 6 in last year's final regular season poll. The Trojans' highest-ever national ranking was No. 3 during the 1999 season.

Mount Olive's season-opening series will be a battle of top 10 teams as the Trojans play host to Tusculum in a three-game series at Scarborough Field. The two teams play a doubleheader February 2, then conclude the series with a single game February 3.