5. MOUNT OLIVE TROJANS (48-8)

MOUNT OLIVE TROJANS (48-8)
Last season UMO topped the nation in winning percentage and was the top seed and host of the Southeast Regional for the third year in a row. With a quick 2-0 start in regional play it appeared the Trojans could be headed to the final eight with an opportunity to play for their second national title in five years; however the team was upset in a pair of close games to have their season come to a disappointing end. While the school’s name has changed from Mount Olive College to the University of Mount Olive, one thing remains the same; the Trojans will once again field one of the top teams in the nation. Mount Olive lost several exceptional players over the offseason, but once again the Trojans added several more to take their place.

Two of the players added to the Trojans’ roster will be bringing top shelf talent, but also a bit of baggage as well. Tyler Joyner was dismissed from East Carolina after getting in a fight at a party. In 2012 he was 6-2 with a 3.01 ERA and ranked 18th in strikeout-t-walk ratio as he fanned 68 with only 12 walks. Jay Gonzalez was suspended by Auburn after the 2012 season. Gonzo had hit .308 with 13 doubles, five triples and 30 stolen bases for AU. Both Joyner and Gonzalez were previous MLB draft picks. Both players can unquestionably be big time performers for UMO if they’ve put their troubles behind them.

Head Coach Carl Lancaster will open the season without Defensive Player of the Year and MLB Draft pick, Geno Escalante and last year’s Conference Carolina’s Player of the Year, Mike Mercurio. The loss of the pair leaves big shoes to fill, but several players are ready to take over the role as leaders on the field. Bradon Reitano is the top candidate to lead the Trojan charge as he was a first team All-American last season after batting .361 with 10 home runs (two of which were grand slams) and 19 stolen bases. He also ranked among the top six in the nation with 65 runs scored and 62 RBI. Zak Orrison was the Conference Carolinas’ Freshman of the Year in lieu of his standout debut in which he hit .328 with 20 stolen bases. Bretton Gouthro’s at bats were scarce to start last season but he broke into the everyday lineup late to be a valuable member of the lineup. He finished with a .333 average. Catcher Colby Conway had trouble breaking into the lineup last season, but impressed when he had the chance. He hit .292 in 24 at bats. Coaches stated that over the summer and fall he elevated his game and was the Trojans’ most improved player.

The Trojans are in a similar situation as the offense pitching-wise – they lost some great talent, including Southeast Region Pitcher of the Year Matt Dillon, but still have plenty left in the gas tank and have help on the way. Lefty Alex Regan was a consensus All-American after going 14-1 with a 1.81 ERA. He tied for first in the nation in wins and had the highest winning percentage in the nation at .933. Fellow southpaw Derek Justice gives UMO a solid one-two punch on the mound. Last year Justice pitched in 15 games, 10 of which were starts and compiled 58.2 innings with a 3.38 ERA. Chris Orphanos also has starting experience, as he threw the first pitch in six of the eighteen games he appeared in. Orphanos finished the year with an 8-2 record and 3.91 ERA. He struck out 64 batters in 69 innings with only nine walks. Josh Frederick appeared in 16 games out of the Trojans’ bullpen and was solid in the 19.1 innings he pitched. He completed the year with a 2.33 ERA and, according to his bio, is a superhero and saves lives when he’s not on the field.  The pitching staff will get a boost from East Carolina transfer Deshorn Lake. Lake was a 12th round draft pick out of high school, but never quite found his groove with the Pirates.