High Point, N.C.- Mount Olive College enters this season as the defending NCAA Division II Baseball National Champions and the No. 1 team in the 2009 ABCA Preseason Division II National Poll. The Trojans posted a 58-6 overall and 21-1 league record in 2008. Mount Olive also won its third consecutive Conference Carolinas championship. Including pitchers and position players, Mount Olive graduated eight senior starters from last year’s team, five of whom were selected in the 2008 Major League Baseball Draft. The Trojans do return a number of seniors who helped key last year’s national championship run.
Senior All-American right fielder Alex Vertcnik ranked among the national leaders last year with a .416 batting average and 77 runs batted in. while carrying a 26-game hitting streak into the 2009 season. The MVP of last year’s conference tournament, Vertcnik became the first-ever Trojan student-athlete in any sport to earn All-Tournament honors in the conference tournament, NCAA regional tournament and NCAA national finals in the same year. Senior third baseman Rich Racobaldo was named MVP of the NCAA II South Atlantic Regional, going 4-for-5 in the championship game and batting .533 in the regional. Racobaldo was also named to the All-Tournament Team at the national finals.
Senior right-hander Kyle Jones posted a 2-0 record in two starts in NCAA post-season play last year, including a complete game four-hitter in the regional semifinals in his first collegiate start. A relief pitcher during the regular season last year, Jones enters the season as the Trojans’ top starter. Senior relief pitcher Patrick Ball posted a 1-0 record with one save in two appearances at the national finals, retiring every batter he faced.
Carl Lancaster enters his 23rd year as head coach at Mount Olive. Lancaster was in attendance at the ABCA National Convention earlier this month to receive his 2008 Division II Baseball National Coach of the Year Award.
Erskine College was voted second in the preseason poll. The Flying Fleet look to continue the momentum of a record breaking 2008 season that saw Erskine finish with a school record 44 wins (17-5 & 44-13 overall) and the schools first ever NCAA tournament appearance. Erskine lost just two seniors from 2008 and returns nine starters on offense and ten pitchers.
The offense will be led by junior second baseman Chas Anthony, who was named All American after hitting .380 with 17 doubles, 18 home runs with 75 RBI and being selected All Conference and All Region. Joining Anthony will be junior outfielder Bryan Fogle, who hit .376 with 11 homeruns, 69 RBI, and was named All Conference and All Region. Junior outfielder Greg Huff hit .357 with 14 doubles and 11 homeruns to earn All Conference honors as well.
The Fleet pitching staff will look to build on a solid 2008 season that saw three pitchers earn first team All Conference, a first in school history. Senior Michael Moore, who was 10-3 with a 3.39 ERA, will anchor the staff. Moore, who was named to the All Conference and All Region teams, needs just one more victory to break the school record for career wins. Joining Moore will be junior William Buzhardt who was 8-3 with a 3.71 ERA and named All Conference. The bullpen will be held down by sophomore Atlee Pearson, who was named All Conference and All Region, while also being named Conference Carolinas Freshman of the Year.
The Belmont Abbey College Crusaders place third in the coaches’ preseason poll. The 2009 season brings a great deal of optimism to the program. The Crusaders hope to take the momentum of last years success and experience into the upcoming year and build on it. The Abbey finished third in league regular season play (16-8 & 41-22 overall) before forcing a winner takes all game in the conference championship and taking the runner-up championship honors. From there the Crusaders qualified for the NCAA Regional Championships before bowing out and concluding an outstanding 2008 campaign in the regional semifinal round.
The Crusaders welcome back 13 letter winners from the 2008 campaign. Three All-Conference selections return: Michael Raymond, Andrew Morton, and Carlos Vasquez. Belmont Abbey also returns 2007 All-Conference selection Tyler McKenzie.
Rounding out the baseball preseason poll 4-9 is: Barton and Pfeiffer (tied), Anderson, Limestone, Coker, and St. Andrews respectively.
Conference Carolinas Pre-Season Coaches Poll
(First place votes in parenthesis)