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Monthly Archives: May 2017

NCAA Baseball Mideast Regional Preview: Veteran W&J Team Returns as Host

By Justin Zackal

W&J celebrates the 2017 PAC title win over Grove City.

The NCAA Division III Baseball Mideast Regional is making its third straight appearance at Washington & Jefferson, but this year the host team is returning for the first time since 2015. That doesn’t mean W&J won’t know what to expect: eight Presidents played in three regional games two years ago, including the starting pitchers in both losses and a player who hit a home run.

Additionally, W&J’s top eight position players and top three pitchers, according to games started, are either juniors or seniors.

“With a veteran group, we’ve started juniors and seniors all year,” said W&J head coach Jeff Mountain, a veteran himself in his 15th season. “They’ve been through a lot. You just never know how guys are going to respond, but I think experience pays this time of year.”

W&J will host all the Mideast Regional games at Ross Memorial Park, Thursday to Monday, May 18-22. The PAC Sports Network will broadcast all the games, beginning Thursday when W&J plays Misericordia at 10 a.m. The winner of the eight-team, double-elimination tournament —along with seven other regional winners — will advance to the NCAA Division III World Series, May 26-31 in Appleton, Wisconsin.

Three of the eight teams at the Mideast Regional were national semifinalists last year, including SUNY Cortland, 2016 Mideast Regional Champion La Roche and 2016 national runner-up Keystone.

Here’s a look at the field:

#1 WOOSTER (35-8). The 17-time champion of the North Coast Athletic Conference is ranked eighth in the nation. Wooster is one of two teams that played in last year’s Mideast Regional at Ross Memorial Park, going 3-2 before losing to both teams that played in the final game, Randolph-Macon, 2-1, in the second round, and eventual champion La Roche, 13-0, in the semifinal game.

#2 SUNY CORTLAND (33-7). Cortland is making its 25th straight NCAA tournament appearance. The Red Dragons, ranked fourth in the nation, qualified as an at-large, Pool C berth after finishing second in the State University of New York Athletic Conference (SUNYAC) regular season. Oswego won the SUNYAC after the conference tournament was rained out.

#3 LA ROCHE (34-8). The Redhawks have made Ross Memorial Park their postseason home more than W&J. The champion of the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference, La Roche is making its fifth Mideast Regional appearance, including three straight at W&J. The Redhawks, ranked 12th in the nation this year, won last year’s regional before advancing to the Division III World Series where they went 2-2 as a semifinalist. Both losses came against Keystone (6-1, 5-4).

#4 WASHINGTON & JEFFERSON (34-10). The 11-time PAC champions are making their sixth appearance at regionals. The 16th-ranked Presidents’ 34 wins are tied for the third-most in team history, including a pair of 8-1 wins over Grove City to earn the automatic berth in the regional. Senior right-hander Riley Groves (8-2, 1.94 ERA) and junior righty Bryce Schnatterly (7-0, 2.75 ERA) started regional games two years ago, losing to Frostburg State, 7-1, and La Roche, 4-1, respectively. Groves was the PAC Pitcher of the Year.

Senior catcher Derek Helbing was the PAC Player of the Year after batting .342 with a PAC-best 11 homer runs and 25 walks, while senior outfielder Nick Vento led the league with 67 hits to go with his .414 batting average. Vento hit a two-run homer in W&J’s 9-3 win over Adrian in the 2015 regional.

#5 MISERICORDIA (30-12). The Cougars won their seventh straight MAC Freedom championship. They lost to Keystone, 9-7, on May 1, and split with La Roche, winning 6-3 and losing 9-5, in games played in Florida back in March. Misericordia lost both of its games at the Mid-Atlantic Regional last year.

#6 KEYSTONE (31-13). The Giants lost to Trinity twice, 14-6 and 10-7, in the final rounds of last year’s Division III College World Series, their second appearance at nationals. Keystone won the Colonial State Athletic Conference for the 13th straight year. Last year, Keystone won the Mid-Atlantic Regional.

#7 DEPAUW (31-11). The Tigers lost to Wooster in the NCAC tournament in two games by a combined score of 43-9. Still, DePauw earned an at-large, Pool C team, as the Tigers made their seventh all-time appearance in the NCAA postseason and their first since 2014.

#8 EARLHAM (29-12). The only new kids on the block in the Mideast Regional, Earlham is making its debut in the NCAA postseason after the Quakers won their first Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference title.

 

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PAC Baseball Championship Preview: Host W&J is the Favorite, But ‘Anything Can Happen’

By Justin Zackal

Nick Vento and the W&J Presidents matched a PAC record with 21 regular season wins.

Reaching exactly 21 may get you blackjack in a casino, but it won’t win a championship in the Presidents’ Athletic Conference. Washington & Jefferson set the PAC record of 21 conference wins in 2012 and matched it in 2014, but the Presidents didn’t win as hosts of the PAC Baseball Championship Tournament.

After tying the record again this year, W&J (30-9, 21-3 PAC) is hosting the tournament at Ross Memorial Park, May 11-13, for the first time since 2014. But 15th-year head coach Jeff Mountain isn’t cashing in his chips.

“I just think in a conference tournament, especially with these four teams, anything can happen,” Mountain said. “It wouldn’t be an upset for any of these four teams to win.”

The other three teams are second-seeded and defending champion Thomas More (26-10, 15-7 PAC), third-seeded Grove City (17-17, 14-10 PAC) and fourth-seeded Thiel (21-17, 13-11 PAC).

W&J and Thomas More have alternated winning PAC titles since 2013, so it’s the Presidents’ turn this year to win, which would be their 11th PAC title. Thomas More, meanwhile, seeks its fifth crown. Grove City hasn’t won the PAC since 2008 and Thiel, 2003.

The Presidents will play Thiel in the first game of the double-elimination tournament, Thursday at noon, as the two teams will play for the fourth time in six days. They split a doubleheader Saturday at W&J and the Presidents won the rubber match Sunday at Thiel.

Mountain doesn’t think the recent familiarity will matter.

“They’ll be a little more fresh in our mind, but we’ll be fresh in their mind,” Mountain said. “It just comes down to the execution of the teams and how the pitchers throw.”

He paused and added, “I don’t want to see Thiel’s pitcher.”

That pitcher is sophomore right-hander Nick Bucci, who led the PAC in wins (9-2) and strikeouts (54) while posting a 2.85 ERA. Bucci pitched a complete-game seven innings with six strikeouts, no walks, nine hits, five runs (2 earned) in a 6-5 win over W&J on Saturday. Either Bucci or Kevin Forrester, who also struck out 54 this year, will oppose W&J ace Riley Groves (7-2) and his league-leading 1.61 ERA in the first game.

According to Mountain, the margin for error in the early games of the tournament will be small; therefore, pitching and defense will be key.

“Everybody has a good arm or two that can limit the other team,” Mountain said. “You’ve got to take advantage of the limited scoring opportunities you have in those early days because the more the tournament goes on the style of the game changes.”

As teams use up their pitchers, the games gives way to higher scoring. But that doesn’t mean W&J won’t be able to outhit opponents. The Presidents lead the league in batting average (.356), on-base percentage (.437) and slugging percentage (.551). Their 41 homers tied Thomas More for the most in the PAC.

In addition to its offense and playing at home, other advantages for W&J include its experience playing a nonconference schedule against teams that finished .500 or above, and the composition of its lineup: W&J’s top eight position players and top three pitchers, according to games started, are either juniors or seniors.

Bailey Abbatiello and the Thomas More Saints hope to defend their PAC title.

“We haven’t had too many peaks and valleys, which is what you expect out of a veteran team,” Mountain said. “But all bets are off in the postseason. Sometimes the younger team is the looser team when they get things going early and they just relax. You just never know how guys are going to respond, but I think experience pays off this time of year.”

Grove City is “quietly” playing its best ball of the year, according to Mountain. The Wolverines have won six out their last seven games, including one at Thomas More, a place where W&J lost twice this year.

“Thomas More is just really good,” Mountain added. “It wasn’t an upset or they played out of their minds (when Thomas More shut out W&J twice in a doubleheader April 14); they are just a really good team and a really good program … and so is ours.”

The PAC Sports Network (PACSN) will deliver live broadcasts of all of this year’s championship tournament games at pacstream.net. After Thursday’s W&J-Thiel game at noon, Grove City and Thomas More will play at 3 p.m. Friday’s game times are noon, 3 p.m., and 6 p.m. and Saturday at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. (if necessary).