PACSN Blog

Top-Seeded La Roche Riding a Crescendo into the NCAA Mideast Regional

By Justin Zackal

wjThe La Roche baseball team just keeps getting better and better, improving its season win total each year since 2009. The Redhawks enter the NCAA Division III Baseball Mideast Regional riding a crescendo of success by making their fourth appearance at regionals since 2012.

Follow all the action as the PAC Sports Network (pacstream.net) will broadcast each game of the eight-team, double-elimination tournament from Washington & Jefferson’s Ross Memorial Park May 18-22.
Let’s go “around the horn” with La Roche head coach Chase Rowe, followed by a “quick pitch” for each of the other seven teams:

AROUND THE HORN
FIRST BASE. La Roche (36-9), ranked 12th in the nation, is the FIRST-ever Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference team to earn the No. 1 seed in a regional. After becoming the FIRST team in school history to win more than 33 games, is this team expecting to break even more new ground with a FIRST-ever trip to nationals? “I don’t talk to the group about expectations,” Rowe said. “They’ve wanted to win this regional since the first workout in the fall. That’s been the expectation they put on themselves. This group has been hungry to make their own mark.”

SECOND BASE. This will be the SECOND year that La Roche is playing in a regional at Ross Memorial Park. The Redhawks went 3-2 in last year’s regional as the fourth seed before losing to Frostburg State, 8-4, in the championship game. La Roche has played 11 games (7-4) the last three seasons at Ross Memorial Park. “W&J is pretty much like a second home field to us,” Rowe said. “It’s a great place, we love playing there and we’re excited to be back.”

SHORTSTOP. The most important player on La Roche’s team may not lead the Redhawks in many statistical categories (only his 28 walks). But, senior SHORTSTOP Colin Williamson (.337, 30 RBI, 6 HR) plays a critical role. “He’s our leadoff hitter; he sets the tone,” Rowe said. “He’s the heartbeat for this group. He’s the hardest-working, nicest kid, best student that you can get. He’s just an all-around guy that kids look up to. He’s the table-setter at the top of the lineup. When he’s going good, we’re really good. When he’s struggling, we have to scratch and claw to win. He’s the most important factor right now.”

THIRD BASE. This is La Roche’s THIRD straight regional appearance and the Redhawks have won 30 or more games in each of the last three years. Will they draw on this experience? “Not really. I think this group is much more staying in the moment right now,” Rowe said. “We had a tough conference tournament. We had to come out of the losers’ bracket after losing the first game and late in the regular season we were trying to put ourselves in a position from an overall record standpoint to get an at-large bid. We’ve been grinding games at least for the last three or four weeks. They are drawing from that a lot more than from last year or the previous year. Hopefully they’ll keep the momentum going.”

QUICK PITCHES
#2 RANDOLPH-MACON (32-6-1). The Yellow Jackets are ranked second in the nation, and second in the regional. The Old Dominion Athletic Conference champions don’t have a proven track record, having never won a regional game in four other appearances (1977, 2008, 2011 and 2013). PLAYER TO WATCH: Senior third baseman Travis Lodge, the ODAC Player of the Year, ranks second in the nation in slugging percentage (.867).

#3 WOOSTER (34-11). The Scots, on the other hand, have that experience, despite making their first appearance since 2013. Champions of the North Coast Athletic Conference, Wooster’s 28 tournament appearances are the fourth most in Division III, while the Scots have won five regional titles (1989, 1994, 1997, 2005, 2009) and have finished second twice (1997, 2009) or third once (2005) at nationals. PLAYER TO WATCH: The ace of the pitching staff for the last two years, junior left-hander Michael Houdek is 9-2 with a 3.00 ERA this year.

#4 THE COLLEGE OF NEW JERSEY (30-10). The highest seeded team with an at-large bid, the Lions come out of the New Jersey Athletic Conference, which produced three tournament teams this year. The Lions are making their first NCAA postseason appearance since 2009. PLAYER TO WATCH: Senior outfielder Patrick Roberts owns team highs in the key average stats – batting average (.392) on-base (.476) and slugging (.582) – and counting stats – hits (62), walks (24) and homers (6).

#5 OHIO WESLEYAN (27-14). An at-large team out of Wooster’s conference, the NCAC, the Battling Bishops are making their first NCAA playoff appearance since 2008 and their 18th overall. PLAYER TO WATCH: Senior C.J. Tosino is a first-team all-NCAC outfielder who’s batting a team-high .403, which ranks fourth in the NCAC.

#6 JOHNS HOPKINS (28-13-2). The Blue Jays, an at-large team from the Centennial Conference, are making 21st appearance in the NCAAs, including 12 in the last 16 years. Last year, they went 3-2 in the Mid-Atlantic Regional, falling short of their first regional title since 2010. PLAYER TO WATCH: Junior Conor Reynolds, a first-team all-Centennial shortstop, has more than 150 career hits and 125 career runs, both on pace to rank in the top-five in team history.

#7 ST. JOSEPH’S LONG ISLAND (24-11). Despite finishing fourth in their conference, the Golden Eagles grabbed an automatic bid by winning the Skyline Conference Tournament for the second time in team history. PLAYER TO WATCH: Senior utility player Nick Girardi, Skyline Player of the Year in 2015, earned second-team honors this year after batting .387

#8 WIDENER (24-16-1). The Pride automatically qualified by capturing their second Middle Atlantic Conference Commonwealth crown over the last three seasons. PLAYER TO WATCH: Junior second baseman Justin Healey is batting .366 and earned conference tournament MVP laurels by going 8-for-11 in the team’s three wins.

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PAC Baseball Tournament Preview: The Starting Nine Topics

By Justin Zackal

base-ins-050816Three of the four teams that played for last year’s PAC baseball championship return to Thomas More this year as the top-seeded Saints will once again host the four-team, double-elimination tournament May 12-14.

Thursday and Saturday’s games will start at noon and 3 p.m., while Friday’s slate will feature games at 10 a.m., 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. The PAC Sports Network will deliver live video broadcasts of all of this year’s games at pacstream.net.

Despite the same location and similar teams as last year, there are different storylines. Here is the lineup of “starting nine” topics to follow this weekend:

#1 – OFFENSE
Thomas More (26-9, 20-4 PAC) is the best offensive team in the PAC this year. The Saints’ .347 batting average ranks fourth in the nation, led by junior outfielder Casey Metzger, who ranks second in the PAC with a .437 average.

“That’s kind of our forte,” said Thomas More head coach Jeff Hetzer. “That’s one thing we can usually count on from year to year.”

But what’s different about this year’s team is…

 #2 – DEFENSE
The Saints improved their fielding percentage from last year’s .945 (seventh in the PAC) to .966 this year (30th in the nation).

“Our defense has vastly improved,” Hetzer said. “I think that’s been really good for us and a dramatic difference from last year to this year.”

Only third-seeded Washington & Jefferson (24-15, 16-8 PAC) has a better fielding percentage at .968 (20th in the nation). The Presidents rely heavily on their defense because…

#3 – PITCHING
W&J pitchers allow the fewest walks (2.3 per 9 innings) but also the fewest strikeouts (4.5 K/9 IP). More things can happen when the ball is in play, so it’s impressive that the Presidents are able to maintain a 4.25 ERA (PAC average is 5.40). Second-seeded Thiel (28-12, 17-7 PAC) is tops in the PAC in ERA at 4.20, led by senior all-region left-hander Matt Elko (1.81, 5-1), although he hasn’t pitched in three weeks and his status is in question. The Tomcats strike out more batters (6.26 K/9 IP), but so does Thomas More (6.32 K/9 IP) and pitching is the Saints’ weakness.

“If there’s a dent in our armor it would be the pitching,” Hetzer said. “It hasn’t been good. The ERA shows that (5.80 ERA, seventh in the PAC). That’s one thing we worry about.”

Despite the worries, Thomas More won’t try anything desperate, like pitching games by committee. The teams in this year’s tournament will remain steadfast with what got them here because of experienced…

 #4 – COACHING
There’s a reason why the tournament field is so similar to last year and that’s continuity from the league’s coaches. Hetzer is in his 16th season, while W&J’s Jeff Mountain is in his 14th year and Thiel’s Joe Schaly his 17th. Matt Royer may be the newcomer, leading fourth-seeded Grove City (25-14, 15-9 PAC) to its first tournament appearance since 2011 as the team’s first-year interim coach, but Royer has more than 19 years of collegiate head-coaching experience. At 22-7 and 14-2 in the PAC, Royer led Grove City to its best start in team history, but that was before April 23-24 when the Wolverines were swept in three games in their last trip to Thomas More. Since then, Grove City has lost seven of its last eight PAC games, including all six to Thomas More and Thiel. The other three teams should be more confident based on…

 #5 – CONSISTENCY
W&J, having won 10 of its last 11, and Thiel, 9 of 12, enter the tournament on hot streaks, but Thomas More is the most consistent team in the league.

“The main thing for us has been being consistent and trying to get back to this spot,” said Hetzer, whose team went 3-2 in last year’s tournament, including a 17-5 loss to the W&J in the final game. “You can’t win the conference unless you’re in the conference tournament, so I think that’s been the goal just to get back here and change the end result from the year before.”

The Saints only lost consecutive games twice the entire season, and the latter occurred against W&J last weekend when Thomas More already clinched…

 #6 – HOME-FIELD ADVANTAGE
Thomas More is the only team in the league that has to stay in a hotel for all of its road conference games. Despite this, the Saints were 7-2 in those games and 13-2 at home.

“I don’t know if it’s a big advantage when it comes to baseball, but we wouldn’t trade it,” Hetzer said. “I think with our guys it’s just being more comfortable when you’re playing at home versus staying in a hotel.”

If home field is not a huge factor, what does Hetzer think will increase his team’s chances of winning?

 #7 – TWO-OUT HITTING
“Two-out hits are big in tournament play,” he said. “You get momentum and you can keep (an inning) going, it really enhances your chances of winning. And, vice versa, if you can’t get out of an inning on a 50/50 play and it continues, then it goes the other way as well.”

Thomas More bats .322 with two outs, best in the league, while its batting average against with two outs is .295. Grove City bats .320 with two outs and W&J and Thiel are both at .281. Thiel is best at limiting opposing two-out hits at .283. The question is which player will provide those hits. Often in tournaments a player, sometimes an unlikely one, gets hot. But odds are it will come from…

#8 – THE HOT BAT
“You count on (your best guys) but some of the guys that maybe haven’t done it all year could have a great three days,” Hetzer said.

It’s impossible to predict an unlikely hero, but one player enters the tournament hitting well, particularly against Thomas More. W&J junior outfielder Nick Vento batted .400 last week and he homered in all three games vs. Thomas More.

“He just lit up over the weekend,” Hetzer added. “It seems like he lights us up every time he sees Thomas More; it’s like a whiffle ball game to him.”

Other candidates: Grove City’s Andy Fritz and Matt Waugaman, the PAC leaders in batting average (.438) and homers (10), respectively, Thomas More’s Ben Kenning, the RBI leader (47), and Thiel’s Dan Koller, the hits leader (59).

But no one will remember statistical leaders; they only remember…

 #9 – WHO LIFTS THE TROPHY
Thomas More won three PAC titles (2010-11, 2014) since joining the league in 2006. Thiel and GroveCity haven’t won since 2003 and 2008, respectively. W&J won its 10th PAC title last year, its sixth since 2004. As defending champs, the Presidents could be considered the team to beat.

To Thomas More, at least, it’s a new tournament.

“We don’t get caught up in all that and who we are playing,” Hetzer said. “We are not looking back (at last year) and saying, ‘Man, we can’t wait to get W&J again,’ because you don’t know. It could be Thiel or it could be Grove City this year.”

PAC Softball Title Up for Grabs in “Anyone’s Tournament”

By Justin Zackal

Titans

Westminster Titans are the top seed and host for the 2016 PAC Softball Championships.

Not since 2011 has a PAC softball team won the conference title as the top seed and tournament host. Still, Westminster prefers the home-field advantage as the Titans host the four-team, double-elimination tournament Friday and Saturday in New Wilmington.

“We obviously aren’t taking anything for granted,” said Westminster’s 20th-year head coach Jan Reddinger. “The top seed isn’t often as successful in this tournament because everyone is so evenly matched. The top four teams are so comparable and so close in talent that it could be anyone’s tournament.”

Find out whose tournament it will be by following all the action on the PAC Sports Network, which will stream video of every game, Friday at 10 a.m., noon, 2 p.m. and 4 p.m., and Saturday at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. (if necessary).

Reddinger is probably more aware of history than the young players on her team, and that’s just one reason why the team has enjoyed so much success this year.

“If I had to say during the season it was a good thing because they didn’t know who we were playing,” Reddinger said. “They didn’t realize Bethany hosted it last year and was the regular season champs last year, or that Thomas More won it last year. There was no fear of who we were playing. They played every team the same. That, to me, was a plus.”

The Titans might not want to read the following breakdown of each team’s tournament history, but here goes:

#1 Westminster (23-13, 16-2 PAC) is hosting its third PAC tournament (2013, 2007) as the Titans are seeking their second league championship (2005).

#2 Thomas More (30-8, 15-3 PAC) has won five of the last nine and two of the last three PAC championships, including last year and in 2013 when Westminster last hosted — and qualified for — the PAC tournament.

#3 Saint Vincent (24-12, 12-6 PAC) has never won a PAC championship but they hosted the tournament in 2012 and qualified last year as the fourth seed, finishing both seasons with a team-record 24 wins that were equaled again this year.

#4 Bethany (20-18, 12-6 PAC) hosted the tournament last year and the Bison’s 12 PAC titles are more than any other school, but they haven’t won since 2011.

Westminster’s two seniors, catcher Alexis Sheffer and pitcher Amber Forrest, are the only Titans who experienced a PAC tournament. Fourteen of the Titans’ 19 players are freshmen and sophomores, including sophomore pitcher Jazmyn Rohrer (12-7, 1.96 ERA) and freshman infielder Kailey Liverman (league highs of .496 batting average, 64 hits, 19 doubles, and 44 RBI).

The Titans cruised to a 19-game win streak before losing both games of a doubleheader last Friday at Thomas More, 4-1 and 5-4. Reddinger said the Titans didn’t take the Saints for granted, but she hopes losing had a positive effect.

“Now we know what it takes to beat a team like that,” Reddinger said. “Since we are hosting and the No. 1 seed, everyone assumes that we’re the team (to beat). Thomas More probably has a little more fear with everyone else just because they have a lot more experience at this than we do. One team has an advantage with experience and we have the advantage with it being at our place.”

IMG_1269

Thomas More pitcher Mamee Salzer was the MVP of last year’s PAC tournament.

The player most capable of dictating the outcome of the tournament will be Thomas More senior pitcher Mamee Salzer (15-3, 2.17 ERA), who went 2-0 with a save last week, including a two-hit shutout at Bethany and a complete-game victory and a save in two wins over Westminster.

“All four teams that made it have tremendous pitching,” Reddinger said. “You never know with how your pitchers are, with injuries, how you’re hitting. It all has to come together and you only have two days for it to come together.”

That’s why the PAC tournament is so unpredictable and the regular season results don’t matter.

“It’s completely different,” Reddinger added. “There’s no room for making mistakes. When it comes down to this point it’s usually the team that wants it the most. It doesn’t always have to be the most talented team.”

ORLC Women’s Lacrosse Championship Preview

By Justin Zackal

ORLC LogoIn the two-year history of the Ohio River Lacrosse Conference (ORLC), the women’s tournament will be hosted by a Presidents’ Athletic Conference (PAC) school. Last year, in the league’s inaugural season as a joint venture between PAC and Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference (HCAC) schools, Saint Vincent earned hosting rights and won the league’s first crown.

Now it’s Washington & Jefferson’s turn. Well, at least the Presidents’ turn hosting the tournament, which they earned by going undefeated in ORLC this season. And unless Transylvania, Saint Vincent and Mount St. Joseph have anything to say about it, this could be the Presidents’ turn to win the conference title as well.

Find out by following the PAC Sports Network on Saturday which will have all the action with live video streaming of the championship game at http://www.pacstream.net.

In semifinal action, Transylvania will face Saint Vincent Friday at 1 p.m., followed by W&J vs. Mount St. Joseph at 4 p.m. The two winners will meet for the championship Saturday at 5 p.m.

Here’s a look at each team:

#1 WASHINGTON & JEFFERSON (11-4, 8-0 ORLC)The Skinny: After losing four of their first five games, the Presidents enter the tournament winning 10 straight, including victories over each of the tournament teams in succession to end the regular season. W&J snapped Transylvania’s 13-match win streak with a 10-8 triumph in Lexington, Ky., Sunday behind five goals from senior Ashley Bulger. W&J bowed out in the semifinals last year as the third seed.
 Player to Watch: Sophomore Caroline Kallos, who had six points (3 goals, 3 assists) Sunday, posted 52 points in her last six matches to break the W&J record for points in a season with 73.

 #2 TRANSYLVANIA (13-3, 7-1 ORLC)The Skinny: Transylvania is easily the highest scoring team in the ORLC with nearly 14 goals per game, while limiting opponents to 7.5, but the Pioneers have outscored the three other teams in tournament by a narrower margin, 10 to 9.7. Against the five other ORLC teams the average score is 18.2 to 5.6. Transy lost to Saint Vincent in last year’s semifinals, 17-9.
 Player to Watch:  Senior Rachel Harrison is the league’s leading goal-scorer with 64, including no fewer than four goals in her last eight matches. She logged five goals in the 10-8 loss to W&J on Sunday.

#3 SAINT VINCENT (7-9, 6-2 ORLC)The Skinny: The defending champs lost six straight nonconference games to start the season, but the Bearcats fared well in the ORLC despite losses to Transy, 14-12, and W&J, 14-6. 
 Player to Watch: Sophomore Maggie Nelson led the ORLC with 83 points, but Transy and W&J limited her to four and three points, respectively.

#4 MOUNT ST. JOSEPH (7-8, 5-3 ORLC)The Skinny: The Lions return to Washington after losing to W&J in their regular-season finale on Saturday, 10-9, despite leading 7-6 in the second half. MSJ surrendered just 6.37 goals per game in conference action, second only to W&J’s 5.63.
 Player to Watch: Junior Erica Walsh shoots more than anyone else in the league (153) and she ranks fourth with 44 goals. She scored three goals vs. W&J and five in an 8-7 loss to Transy on March 30.

PAC’s Two Newest Athletic Directors Discuss the Division III Experience

By Justin Zackal

The two newest athletic directors in the PAC are entering their third full month on the job after being named to their roles in December 2015. With the sports seasons changing, this is a great time to get to know these leaders and their views of Division III athletics.

TODD GIBSON

Director of Athletics at … Grove City College

Hired … December 18, 2015

Other duties include … head coach of the men’s and women’s track and field teams.

Before becoming AD … he was Grove City’s interim AD after Dr. Don Lyle retired earlier in 2015.

Joined the department … in July 2010 as full-time assistant professor of physical education and exercise science when he was promoted to head track and field coach. Other previous roles included … assistant track and field coach for two seasons and assistant football coach for 10 years.

College degrees are … in political science at Grove City and integrated social studies/secondary education at Youngstown State, as well as a master’s in exercise science at California University of Pennsylvania.

As a student-athlete … he was a split end on the Grove City football team from 1998-2001, including two years as a starter and the team’s leading receiver as a senior.

 

AMY SCHAFER

Schafer, AmyDirector of Athletics at … Thiel College

Hired … January 1, 2016

Other duties include … senior woman administrator (SWA), a role she’s held since 2009, and she’s in her fourth year as the chair of the Health & Physical Education Department.

Before becoming AD … she was Thiel’s associate director of athletics, starting in 2014, and compliance and eligibility director, beginning in 2012.

Joined the department … as the head softball coach in 2005 until she resigned to become exclusively an administrator after the 2015 season.

Other previous roles included … Thiel’s assistant director of athletics.

College degrees are … in physical education at Bethany College and a master’s in sport management at California University of Pennsylvania.

As a student-athlete … she was a catcher for the Bethany softball team, earning All-America honors in 2002 and three all-region and first-team all-PAC laurels as from 2001-03.

 

HOW THEY ARRIVED

Just because Gibson and Schafer are contemporaries –– arriving in the AD’s chair in their mid-30s with coaching backgrounds –– doesn’t mean they followed the same career progression and goals. But they both have the same appreciation for the role.

While serving as interim AD, Gibson was approached by school administration regarding the vacant job.

“If you’d ask me 24 months ago, I would’ve not at all thought that I’d be doing this,” said Gibson. “But I think sometimes when you’re put in situations you’re blessed to find your calling. Just being able to be around 400 athletes rather than (track and football) was really exciting, and more and more I’ve really enjoyed being around the coaches and the staff that work in athletics and administration as a whole at the college. It’s become really fun to me to be part of developing a vision.”

Schafer took a more deliberate path, plotting out her career as an administrator even before she left the coaching profession. In 2014, she was one of 12 individuals selected to the NCAA Pathway Program, which assists administrators who wish to become directors of athletics through education, training and mentoring.

“I sat down one day and was like, ‘I like this administration a little bit more,’” said Schafer, who increased her administrative duties in earnest upon getting her master’s degree from Cal U. “From there everything was just picking up each year, different titles and different duties. It was a good way from the education side to refine some of my skills. And from an experience side, Thiel did a great job in allowing me to develop my interest.”

Being former student-athletes in the PAC helped Gibson and Schafer as leaders charged with enhancing the student-athlete experience.

“It affects every decision that I make every day,” Gibson said. “So having been a student and an athlete at Grove City and also being a coach at Grove City, I think having worn all those hats helps me in my deliberation process and thinking things through.”

Schafer also sees a correlation between her experience as a softball catcher to her career as an administrator, saying with a bit of levity, “You tell everyone what to do, managing everything and having your hand in everything that you possibly could.”

STATE OF DIVISION III ATHLETICS

A common thread when evaluating the Division III landscape is how much Gibson and Schafer stress the heightened competition and expectations. Gibson, who remains head track and field coach, must continue to meet the demands of recruiting.

“The recruiting process is taking on more of a Division I-type model, meaning extremely competitive between schools and between coaches and a lot more high pressure with enrollment demands, at private institutions especially,” Gibson said. “There’s a lot of pressure I see on coaches to win games but also to recruit successful students for the colleges. I think that’s a change from the past.”

Managing Division I-type expectations is just one of the many challenges for athletic directors. By overseeing the coaches, who are managing the expectations of student-athletes, the tone of an entire athletic department is set from the top. For Schafer, that means adding as much value to the student-athlete experience as possible.

“(Prospective student-athletes) feel like it’s going to be like D-1; it’s not,” Schafer said. “(It’s about) finding ways to create an atmosphere for the student-athletes and make them feel like they really do matter. So it’s finding a way to create an atmosphere and add that value because they are here to get an education and not just play sports. I try to tell the coaches to get everything out of it. Make it flashy.”

Social media have heightened expectations, from both the responsiveness in communication to exposing the arms race of what schools offer their athletes. Gibson noted how he’s better off using social media or text messaging to communicate with his athletes rather than phone calls, while Schafer said that when coaches and students-athletes see other schools exhibiting some of that added value on social media, there is a prevailing ‘Why can’t we get that?’ response.

However, the desired outcomes of Division III athletics remain the same.

“I don’t know the values have changed that much,” Gibson said. “When I was participating in athletics here, we wanted to win, we wanted to have great relationships, we wanted to be good students, all of those things still hold true.

“The great advantage about Division III is, speaking for Grove City, is we have individuals who are very passionate about developing a culture that is going to cultivate more positive contributors to our society. If you’re playing Division III sports you have a passion to do it. We’re very fortunate to work with student-athletes in that capacity.”