Mount Olive Headed To National Finals

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Tournament Most Outstanding Player Rich Racobaldo went 4-for-5 and put Mount Olive ahead to stay with a two-out rbi-single in the top of the fifth as the No. 1 seed and nationally top-ranked Trojans defeated No. 3 seed USC Aiken in the championship game of the 2008 NCAA Division II Baseball South Atlantic Regional Monday at Scarborough Field on the campus of Mount Olive College. Racobaldo batted .538 (14-for-26) in six games at the regional. Three of his four hits in the championship game came with two outs.

Monday’s contest was the completion of Sunday’s suspended game, which was halted in the top of the eighth inning due to severe weather.

With the win, Mount Olive (54-6) advances to the NCAA Division II National Finals at Sauget, Ill., just outside of St. Louis, Mo. The eight-team tournament begins Saturday, with the Trojans playing their first game Sunday against Ouachita Baptist (Ark.), which defeated co-national No. 1 Delta State (Miss.) 8-1 Monday to capture the South Central Regional championship.

USC Aiken (47-17) took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second on John Sherrer’s rbi-single. Pacer starter Scott Wandless retired the first six Mount Olive batters before Lancaster led off the top of the third with a double off the third base bag. Lancaster eventually scored on Racobaldo’s two-out single to tie the game.

USC Aiken regained the lead in the bottom of the third on Chris Grandenetti’s rbi-single. The Pacers had opportunities to break the game open early, but left the bases loaded in both the second and third innings. Racobaldo also threw out a runner at the plate on a ground ball to third in the second inning.

The Pacers threatened again with a runner on third and nobody out in the bottom of the fourth when Jamie Benjamin hit a leadoff double and advanced on an error. But Todd Jeffreys, the third Trojan pitcher, retired USC Aiken’s 3-4-5 batters in order to escape trouble.

Joseph Westbrook keyed a two-run rally for Mount Olive with two outs in the top of the fifth. After Wandless retired the first two Trojan batters on four pitches, Westbrook singled up the middle and advanced to third on a wild pitch and a passed ball. David Cooper’s wind-aided opposite-field double to the left field wall brought home Westbrook with the tying run and Racobaldo’s rbi-single gave the Trojans their first lead of the game at 3-2

Mount Olive extended the lead to 4-2 with another two-out rally in the seventh. Racobaldo singled with two outs and stole second, then came home on Vertcnik’s opposite-field ground rule double that bounced over the left field fence.

Trojan starter Paul Novicki and reliever Patrick Ball each pitched 1 1/3 innings and allowed one run apiece. Jeffreys followed with 2 1/3 scoreless innings of relief, allowing only two hits. Casey Hodges, who started and pitched six innings Thursday in Mount Olive’s first round win over Erskine, recorded three strikeouts around a single in the sixth and retired the side in order in the bottom of the seventh.

Erik Lovett led off the top of the eighth with a single and went to second on a wild pitch when lightning, gusting winds and heavy rain brought the game to a sudden halt. When play resumed Monday morning, Peden Rucker took over on the mound for Wandless. Josh Harrison grounded out to first to advance Lovett to third and Jesse Lancaster battled back from an 0-2 count to single through the right side against a drawn-in infield to extend the Trojans’ lead to 5-2.

Conference Carolinas Pitcher of the Year Ryan Schlecht, who tossed a complete game four-hitter Friday against North Georgia, started the eighth inning on the mound for Mount Olive. USC Aiken brought the tying run to the plate when Ryne Salmon beat out an infield single with one out and Chad Jacobsen lined a two-out double to right. But Schlecht struck out Pacer clean-up batter Ken Raborn looking to end the inning. Raborn had belted three home runs in the regional.

Mount Olive gave Schlecht added insurance with three more runs in the top of the ninth. Racobaldo and Vertcnik connected on back-to-back doubles for the first run and Jason Sherrer followed with an rbi-single to left. Sherrer advanced to second on the throw, went to third on a wild pitch and came home on Lovett’s single, his third hit of the game.

Schlecht gave up a leadoff home run to Nick Aranas in the bottom of the ninth, but sealed the win with a fly out, a groundout and a strikeout. Schlecht recorded the save in his first relief appearance since opening day.

Jeffreys (5-1) picked up the win for Mount Olive, while Wandless (9-3) was charged with the loss.

Mount Olive forced a winner-takes-all game with a 13-2 victory over USC Aiken in Sunday’s opening contest. Making his first collegiate start, Kyle Jones took a perfect game into the fifth inning and pitched a complete game four-hitter for the Trojans. Lovett belted his third home run of the regional during a five-run third inning.

The Trojans placed eight players on the 11-member All-Tournament Team. Joining Racobaldo were Sherrer, Lovett, Cooper, Vertcnik, Jones, Schlecht and Anthony Williams, who also earned All-Tournament honors at last year’s regional. USC Aiken was represented by Raborn and Wandless. Columbus State centerfielder Jonnie Geiger made the All-Tournament Team for the second straight year.

An eight-time NCAA Tournament participant, Mount Olive is making its first-ever trip to the Division II finals. The Trojans reached the NAIA National Finals in 1992.

Weather affected play across the country with four of the eight regionals extending into Monday.

The national finals are divided into two four-team double-elimination brackets, with games scheduled for every other day. If two teams from a bracket are still alive after the sixth day, an elimination game will be played Friday, May 30. The two bracket winners face each other in a single winner-takes-all game Saturday, May 31, for the national championship.

The other first round game in Mount Olive’s bracket pits South Regional champion Tampa (Fla.) against North Central Regional champion Ashland (Ohio). The other bracket begins play Saturday with West Regional champion Sonoma State (Calif.) taking on North Atlantic Regional champion Shippensburg (Pa.) and Central Regional champion Central Missouri facing Northeast Regional champion Franklin Pierce (N.H.).

The Mount Olive baseball team is the second Trojan sports team in the last four years to reach the final eight of an NCAA Division II Championship. The Trojans advanced to the 2005 NCAA Division II Men’s Basketball Elite Eight. Mount Olive has also had participants in the NCAA II Men’s and Women’s Cross Country National Finals.

All-Tournament Team

Rich Racobaldo, Mount Olive – Most Outstanding Player

David Cooper, Mount Olive

Jonnie Geiger, Columbus State

Kyle Jones, Mount Olive

Erik Lovett, Mount Olive

Ken Raborn, USC Aiken

Ryan Schlecht, Mount Olive

Jason Sherrer, Mount Olive

Alex Vertcnik, Mount Olive

Scott Wandless, USC Aiken

Anthony Williams, Mount Olive

Post-Game Comments

“We got our hearts broken last year and that makes winning this year’s championship even sweeter. There’s never been a more deserving group of men and competing in the World Series is the way they need to go out.”

Mount Olive head coach Carl Lancaster. The Trojans lost to Columbus State twice on the final day of last year’s regional.

“I think the reason for our success is we have Coach (Aaron) Akin and Coach (Rob) Watt. They just do a tremendous job and make my job so much easier.”

Mount Olive head coach Carl Lancaster on his two assistant coaches.

“I wasn’t trying to do anything special. I just tried to put the ball in play each at-bat.”

Mount Olive third baseman and tournament Most Outstanding Player Rich Racobaldo.

“It was hard to fall asleep last night. I was nervous that I wasn’t going to throw strikes, but after the first pitch, I felt good.”

Mount Olive pitcher Ryan Schlecht, who pitched both innings Monday for the save.

“I was very surprised when Coach Akin told me I was starting since I hadn’t started a game this year. It kind of hit me in the fourth inning that I had a perfect game going, but I just tried to stay focused on one pitch at a time. I’m just thrilled that I could help the team.”

Mount Olive pitcher Kyle Jones, who recorded a complete game four-hit victory in Sunday’s first game against USC Aiken to set up the winner-takes-all championship game.

“We came out this morning and played hard. They (Mount Olive) just got some hits, they battled and got some through the infield. Give them credit for getting the job done. They are a good ball club and we just didn't have enough.”

USC Aiken head coach Kenny Thomas.