PAC Baseball Championship Preview: Pitching Appears Dominant

By Justin Zackal

For the first time in seven years, the PAC Baseball Championship Tournament will take place at Thomas More College. The Saints have won three of the last five PAC titles, but none as tournament hosts.

This should bode well for the Saints, who finished as the top seed with an overall record of 27-10 and 18-6 in the PAC. The three other teams have to travel an average of nearly 300 miles to Crestview Hills, Ky., including fourth-seeded Washington & Jefferson, which is 10-0 at home this year in PAC games.

None of this has 15th-year head coach Jeff Hetzer touting his team’s chances.

Reigning PAC Coach of the Year Jeff Hetzer

Reigning PAC Coach of the Year Jeff Hetzer.

“The odds are not in our favor,” Hetzer said. “We’re young and inexperienced. I’d be lying if I said I thought we would be hosting (this year). We didn’t think we’d be in this position.”

Yes, the Saints lost both games of a doubleheader at second-seeded Waynesburg (19-6-1, 17-7 PAC) on Saturday. And, yes, they lost all three games this year to third-seeded Thiel (28-12, 17-7 PAC), including an April 14 doubleheader at home in which the Saints scored one run.

Even W&J, a team Thomas More swept in three games at home this year, has Hetzer cautious. W&J hosted the last two PAC tournaments, beating Thomas More in the championship game in 2013 and losing to the Saints in the finals last year. Thomas More plays W&J Thursday at 3 p.m. after the noon game between Waynesburg and Thiel.

“The roles are reversed,” Hetzer said. “It’s tough to beat anyone five times in one year. We have to beat our rival for a (possible) fifth time (if we want to win the tournament).”

Hetzer isn’t bending all logic to make sure his top-seeded team is playing the underdog role again. Here’s a strong case for each team winning the PAC title this week, including Thomas More, and the player who will most impact its chances:

#4 Washington & Jefferson (25-14, 16-8 PAC). The Presidents only have two seniors who are regular starters, but head coach Jeff Mountain has won five PAC titles and will have his team prepared. In a tournament where scoring opportunities will be a scarcity, W&J’s speed will come into play. The Presidents had 82 stolen bases this year. None of the other three teams in the tournament had more than 39.

IMPACT PLAYER: Sophomore pitcher Riley Groves’ league-leading 1.29 ERA (0.68 in PAC games) is only outdone by his remarkable 42:5 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

#3 Thiel (28-12, 17-7 PAC). The Tomcats went 5-4 against the three other teams in the tournament this year, but their four losses came by a combined five runs. Thiel’s +7 run differential against PAC tournament teams is the best.

IMPACT PLAYER: In his last visit to Thomas More, sophomore Matt Elko pitched eight shutout innings with no walks in a 1-0 Tomcat victory.

Waynesburg ace Brian Resnik

Waynesburg ace pitcher Brian Resnik.

#2 Waynesburg (20-16-1, 17-7 PAC). In a tournament that should be dominated by pitching, the Yellow Jackets are the team most likely to break out the bats. Waynesburg’s batting (.339), on-base (.417) and slugging (.450) averages in PAC games led the league and their 182 runs in PAC games were 19 more than any other team. Waynesburg went 6-3 against the other PAC tournament teams and their 9-4 record on the road was also best in the league.

IMPACT PLAYER: In his last two starts, junior pitcher Brian Resnik limited Thomas More and W&J to a combined one earned run and three walks in 13 innings.

#1 Thomas More (27-10, 18-6 PAC). Elko’s and Resnik’s outings vs. Thomas More are more impressive when you consider that the Saints try to draw walks and extend pitch counts. Thomas More leads the PAC in overall batting average (.341), on-base percentage (.417) and walks (126).

“That’s been our M.O. since I’ve been here,” Hetzer said. “We’ve been fairly patient at the plate and seeing as many pitches as we can.”

IMPACT PLAYER: Yes, Thomas More has some good starters. The Saints lead the PAC with a 3.36 team ERA and the next lowest is Thiel’s 3.85. But in a double-elimination tournament, when the games are on the line, Thomas More will look to sophomore reliever Ken Ruberg, the PAC leader with six saves and 18 games finished. He could be the last man standing when the PAC title is won.

There’s a reason all the impact players will be pitchers. Hetzer said he’d be shocked if there are any high-scoring games.

“Everybody’s got really good arms,” Hetzer added. “The biggest key is getting into the bullpens. The advantage or disadvantage is the bullpen and we have one of the better bullpens.”

After Thursday’s games, the double-elimination tournament continues Friday with games at 10 a.m., 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. and Saturday at noon and 3 p.m. (if necessary).  You can watch and listen to all the action on the PAC Sports Network at