#6 Mount Olive Opens 2008 Season With Sweep

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MOUNT OLIVE, N.C. – Alex Vertcnik hit a tie-breaking two-run double in the bottom of the eighth and made a key defensive play in the top of the ninth, while Ryan Schlecht pitched four scoreless innings in relief as nationally sixth-ranked Mount Olive completed a doubleheader sweep with a 6-4 victory over No. 7 Tusculum in game two Saturday at Scarborough Field. The Trojans took game one 3-2 as Anthony Williams scored what proved to be the game-winning run on a balk with two outs in the bottom of the seventh.

The doubleheader marked the season openers for both teams.

In game one, Mount Olive starting pitcher Casey Hodges retired the first two batters he faced to extend his streak of consecutive batters retired to 21 and set a new school record. Hodges retired the final 19 batters in the Trojans’ 5-0 win over then-No. 9 Georgia College and State in the third round of the 2007 NCAA Division II South Atlantic Regional.

Mount Olive (2-0) fell behind 1-0 in the third inning when Carlos Rivera singled with two outs, stole second and beat the throw to the plate after Maikol Gonzalez singled through the right side.

The Trojans took the lead with a pair of runs in the bottom of the fourth inning. Jesse Lancaster, Rich Racobaldo and Josh Harrison all singled to produce the first run. Racobaldo then scored on Vertcnik’s sacrifice fly. Tusculum (0-2) tied the game in the top of the sixth when Gonzalez doubled with one out and scored one out later on Matt Ford’s single to make the score 2-2.

Williams led off the bottom of the seventh with a single, advanced to second on David Cooper’s sacrifice and went to third on a ground out. Williams scored when reliever Carlos Ortiz was called for a balk.

Hodges went six innings for Mount Olive, allowing two runs on five hits and striking out four. Todd Jeffreys (1-0) picked up the win with two scoreless innings of relief, allowing one hit. Patrick Ball pitched a scoreless ninth and earned the save. Ortiz (0-1) was charged with the loss for Tusculum.

In the nightcap, Mount Olive used single runs in the second and third to take an early 2-0 lead. Tyler Smith drove in the first run with a single to left in his first collegiate at-bat and Harrison brought home the second run with a sacrifice fly.

Tusculum needed only two swings of the bat in the fourth to tie the game as Matt Ford and Sean Cotten led off with back-to-back home runs. The Pioneers put runners on first and third and Matt Webb scored on a double steal. Cotton added a two-out rbi-triple in the fifth inning to extend Tusculum’s lead to 4-2.

The Trojans tied the game in the bottom of the fifth as 2007 Division II National Player of the Year Erik Lovett doubled home a run and Harrison hit another sacrifice fly.

Schlecht (1-0) took the mound to start the sixth in relief of starter Weston Curles and reliever Anthony Hernandez. Tusculum used an error and pair of walks to load the bases with one out, but Schlecht got out of the jam on back-to-back pop-ups to Cooper at short.

Jason Sherrer, who entered the game as a pinch-hitter in the sixth and stayed in to catch, drew a lead off walk in the bottom of the eighth. After pinch-runner John Florance advanced to second on a sacrifice by Williams, Cooper followed with a single up the middle. Florance was being waved home, but had to scamper back to third after losing his footing. Cooper went to second on the throw to the plate.

After a Tusculum pitching change, Vertcnik sent an 0-2 pitch over the left side of the infield, plating both Florance and Cooper to put the Trojans back on top.

Vertcnik, who started the game in right field, moved behind the plate to start the top of the ninth. Schlecht retired the leadoff batter, then put Carlos Rivera on first with a hit by pitch. Rivera tried to advance on a pitch in the dirt, but Vetcnik threw him out at second. Schlecht walked the next batter, but closed out the win on a fly out to center.

Schlecht (1-0) allowed one hit, struck out one and walked three. Keleher (0-1), the third of four Tusculum pitchers, took the loss.

Hodges’ streak of retired batters breaks the previous school record of 20, set by Justin Staatz against Limestone in 2005. While Hodges’ streak went over the course of two seasons, Staatz still holds the school single-game record.

The two teams conclude their three-game series with a single game Sunday at Scarborough Field. First pitch is 1 p.m.