MOUNT OLIVE, NC - A daunting task awaits the Lincoln Memorial University baseball team on Thursday, as the Railsplitters are set to make their first NCAA Division II Southeast Regional appearance against the seventh-ranked/No. 1 seed Mount Olive College Trojans at Scarborough Field in Mount Olive, North Carolina. The 'Splitters and Trojans are scheduled to kick off their opening round matchup under the lights with an official start time of 7 p.m.
Lincoln Memorial (26-24) will be carried into the tournament by a potent offense that ranked in the top three in the South Atlantic Conference in nearly every statistical category. The Railsplitters capped the SAC Championship ranked third in the league in on base percentage (.388), third in batting average (.306), second in runs (360), third in hits (519), third in home runs (35), second in runs batted in (319) and third in total bases (751). According to the most recent Division II statistical rankings, the Railsplitters finished 23rd in the nation in runs and hits.
Spearheading that offensive unit is All-SAC Second Team selection Andre Rodriguez (Las Piedras, Puerto Rico), who leads the Railsplitters with a .362 batting average and ranks second on the squad with a .518 slugging percentage. The SAC Championship All-Tournament Team honoree paced the team with 72 hits the season including 17 doubles and four home runs with 49 RBI. Rodriguez was a Daktronics All-American Third Team selection last season. Rodriguez is riding a five-game hitting streak into the Southeast Regional.
Sophomore Scott Miller (Knoxville, TN) also looks to play a vital role in the Railsplitters' postseason run, as the right fielder tallied a .352 batting average with 12 doubles and 21 RBI in 38 games started this season. Dating back to April 10th, Miller has recorded at least one hit in seven of 10 games with multiple hits in five of those contests.
Josh Coker (Murphy, NC) and Curt Fuqua (Jackson, TN) provide the power surge in the Railsplitters' lineup, as those two have combined for 19 home runs this season. Coker, a SAC All-Tournament Team selection, paced Lincoln Memorial with 11 home runs and a .600 slugging percentage this season. Coker also led the 'Splitters with 53 RBI, with 10 coming in the conference tournament. Fuqua, the SAC Championship Most Valuable Player, recorded eight home runs this season with batting splits of .301/.512/.355. Fuqua also led the Railsplitters in total bases (107) and triples (4) with 43 RBI. Fuqua will look to extend an eight-game hitting streak that dates back to April 12th.
Nick Pressley (Knoxville, TN) has been a vital part of the Railsplitters' success this season on both sides of the ball. Offensively, Pressley has notched a .330 batting average with 59 hits, 17 doubles, three triples and 33 RBI. On the defensive side, Pressley has caught 45 of a potential 50 games for the Railsplitters without committing an error. Pressley was an All-SAC First Team selection and an All-Tournament Team honoree. He has recorded two hits in three-straight games.
Also in the middle of the Railsplitters' lineup, Nick Morabito (Vienna, VA) looks to continue his solid contributions in the Southeast Regional, as the sophomore finished third on the team with a .335 batting average. All told, Morabito has compiled 58 hits, eight doubles, three home runs and 36 RBI.
On the mound, the Railsplitters will be led by senior starter Brandon Cowan (Tequesta, FL), who capped the SAC Championship with a 5-2 overall record. Cowan, a SAC All-Tournament Team honoree, finished second in the league with 92.0 innings pitched and four complete games. Cowan currently has 82 strikeouts this season with one shutout to his credit. The 2013 season has been one for the record books for Cowan, as the lefty is currently fifth in single-season history at LMU with his strikeout number. He is also seventh on the single season list for innings pitched.
Junior Ian Creager (Englewood, OH) provides stability out of the bullpen, as he boasts a 3.89 earned run average in 21 appearances this season. Creager has compiled a 5-3 record with 38 strikeouts in 44.0 innings pitched this season. He was named to the SAC All-Tournament Team after notching two wins in the Railsplitters' run to the crown.
On the other side of the field, the Railsplitters are paired up against a perennial powerhouse of the Southeast Region and a year-in, year-out competitor for the national championship in the Mount Olive Trojans. The Trojans find themselves hosting the Southeast Regional for the third-consecutive season and fifth time in seven years after compiling a 46-6 overall record and winning the Conference Carolinas regular season title. The Trojans won the national championship in 2008 and tied for third in 2011.
Much like the Railsplitters, the Trojans have been carried this season by a dominant offensive unit, ranking inside the top ten nationally in nearly every offensive category. In the most recent Division II statistical comparison (May 5), the Trojans were second in on base percentage (.445), third in runs (464), fourth in scoring (9.1), fourth in slugging percentage (.512) and fifth in stolen bases (138). Mount Olive also finished ninth in the country in batting average, posting a .343 average through May 5th.
Mount Olive has five players currently hitting over .350, headlined by senior Jermaine Berry's .384 batting mark this season. Berry finished second for the Trojans with a .469 on base percentage and 53 RBI. Junior Bradon Reitano is right off of Berry's pace, carrying a .378 batting clip into the Southeast Regional. Reitano leads the Trojans with 73 hits, 10 home runs and 62 RBI.
Three other seniors look to provide further firepower in the Trojans' lineup. Mike Mercurio posted a .360 batting average this season while leading the squad with 21 doubles. He added seven home runs and 52 RBI. Matt Petrone paced the Trojans with a .472 on base percentage, leading the way with 33 walks to go along with 15 doubles. Geno Escalante pounded nine home runs this season with 14 doubles and three triples to lead the Trojans with a .622 slugging percentage.
On the mound, the Railsplitters are likely to see either junior Matt Dillon or sophomore Alex Regan in the first game of the Southeast Regional. Dillon led the Trojans with 97.1 innings pitched, racking up 101 strikeouts over that span en route to compiling a 10-1 mark. He tossed five complete games and finished with a 1.76 earned run average. Regan tallied a 13-1 record in 96.1 innings pitched. Over that span, Regan only allowed 31 runs, good for a 1.96 earned run average.
The Trojans carry a 3.11 team earned run average with four pitchers boasting an ERA below 3.00.
The Railsplitters and Trojans are scheduled to play the nightcap of the first day of the Southeast Regional, meeting at 7 p.m. on Scarborough Field. The winner advances to take on the loser of No. 3 Armstrong Atlantic and No. 4 Coker, while the loser will find themselves in an elimination game against the loser of No. 2 USC Aiken and No. 5 Georgia College. In either scenario, the game will take place on Friday, May 17th.