Simone finding niche at Mount Olive
Second-best batting average in Trojans lineup
CARY, N.C. -- Jason Simone drilled a double into center field and injected new life into Mount Olive College in its showdown against Millersville at the NCAA Division II National Finals on Wednesday afternoon. The extra-base knock in the sixth inning put runners at second and third, and it marked the 27th time this season the Trojans star has had two or more hits in a game.
And unlike the past two games here in the tournament when the Trojans have been able to get hits but have failed to put a healthy dose of runs on the board, scoring wasn’t a problem against the Marauders on this sunny and hot day at the USA Baseball National Training Complex.
Simone's double in the sixth set the tone for a big inning. Tyler Smith ripped a two-out, two-run double to tie the score at 2-2. Moments later, Daniel Coffey came through with a three-run double to the corner of the left field wall that gave the Trojans a commanding 5-2 lead. It ended up being the final score.
“It definitely looked like my hit helped spark things for us,” Simone said. “I wasn’t trying to do too much there. I wanted to get a single, but I was lucky enough to have my ball go through the gap.”
Sixth-ranked Millersville (44-12) never recovered from the outburst and No. 2 Mount Olive (47-9) stayed alive in its quest to bring home the program’s first national title since 2008. The Trojans will play Winona State at 7 p.m. Thursday.
Simone, a senior left fielder, came into the game hitting .421. He had tallied 80 hits, including 22 doubles, and had also knocked in 42 runs. Against Millersville, Simone finished with two hits and scored a run as the Trojans beat the Marauders for the second time in the tournament.
After the win, Simone, a transfer from Division III Cortland State in New York, talked about his role on the team.
“I just try to put the ball in play,” Simone said. “I let the bigger guys do the power hitting. I just go up and grind it out and try to get on base.”
Despite 18 hits in the first two games of the tourney, the offense struggled to put runs on the board, scoring just three in its tourney opener against Millersville on Saturday and grinding out only three runs in a loss to Winona State on Monday.
The Trojans racked up eight hits in the win against the Marauders, with Coffey coming through with three to go along with three RBIs.
“We haven’t been swinging the bats as well as we have most of the year, but maybe this will get us going,” Mount Olive head coach Carl Lancaster said. “Hopefully we can keep it going the rest of the tournament.”
Simone is confident the Trojans will be able to do just that. He transferred from Cortland State because he wanted to face better competition and talked about the adjustments he has had to make throughout the season.
“The pitching is definitely a lot tougher to deal with,” Simone said. “They throw a lot harder and their off-speed pitches usually go for strikes. Their velocity is also faster.”
Yet, Simone has adjusted nicely, boasting the second best average in the lineup, and he is ready to keep the Trojans in contention for a title. He certainly knows what it takes to compete at a championship level, having played for a Cortland State team that lost in the DIII national final a year ago.
“It definitely feels good to still be playing,” Simone said. “I lost in a national championship game last year. I don’t want to experience that again. I want to win it all. I think the experience of having been through (a run) has helped. I’ve played more relaxed and I don’t feel like there is as much pressure on me.”