KINSTON, N.C. --- The No. 24 University of Mount Olive baseball team traveled to Historic Grainger Stadium in Kinston, N.C. to once again play their mid-season matchup with the Single-A affiliate of the Texas Rangers the Down East Wood Ducks Monday night. The Trojans fell in the contest 11-0 but what the players gained from the contest far outweighed the numbers on the scoreboard.
Mount Olive has played the farm team in Kinston since the mid 1990's but from 2011-17 the series took a break. UMO was scheduled to resume the series in 2017 but rain moments before first pitch canceled the game.
Last year the Trojans fell 4-1, but Mount Olive did hold a lead against the Wood Ducks in the first inning after Nate Estes scored on a stolen base attempt.
The matchup this year did not see and Trojan runs on the board but the players and coaching staff were thankful for the experience of playing a professional team, a feat most institutions do not have the luxury of.
"I think it's an incredible opportunity for our guys because all of them have aspirations of playing professionally. It gives them a realistic measuring stick as to how far their development needs to continue to progress," said head coach Rob Watt.
Watt continued by mentioning what it meant having an alum in the opposing dugout; Steve Mintz (Down East Pitching Coaching and former baseball player 1989-90). "Having Steve on the other side of the field is what brings it all together. He has pride in his alma mater and tremendous pride in his current position with the Rangers organization. He is a first-class person and a world class coach, he's always open to helping us progress as a team as well. I always enjoy his insight and tips regarding new ideas taking place at the professional level".
"The Wood Ducks always make us feel incredibly welcome and are intent on it being an experience all of us will remember. Cory Ragsdale, the Wood Ducks manager, was so accommodating and great to interact with. They have done a great job assembling a coaching staff, roster, field crew and everyone else involved - all of them made the experience something I hope we can continue to do every year," concluded Watt.
The experience was then shared by the Trojan players following the game.
"It was a great experience to be able to play against a pro team in a pro stadium and see how we match up with them talent-wise. It was also fun to face pitchers throwing 95+ because this is something that we mostly see on TV and many college baseball players do not get to experience what it's like in the box," said UMO senior outfielder Nate Estes.
"It was pretty cool to play guys who have been drafted and are playing against future major league players. I thought it was a good experience for us to be playing in that type of environment and it can only help us in the long run," said Trojan pitcher Kyle Davis.
"I thought it was an awesome experience and opportunity getting to go out and play the Wood Ducks under the lights. It was a great opportunity for our team to get the chance to see how we stack up against professional arms and hitters. Also a big thanks to the Wood Ducks for the great hospitality that they showed us," commented Mount Olive pitcher Seth Hardin.
Mount Olive returns to regular season play against the Wolves of Newberry College Tuesday. First pitch from Newberry, S.C. is set for 6 p.m.