Previewing the 2015 PAC Football Teams in Four Tiers

By Justin Zackal

Football is best segmented in fours, as in four quarters and four downs. For the sake of previewing the Presidents’ Athletic Conference (PAC) football season, here are the 11 teams and where they fit into four tiers entering the 2015 season:

W&J Football

W&J was tabbed the favorite in the PAC Preseason Poll.

Washington & Jefferson (10-2, 7-1 PAC in 2014) is in a class of its own. The Presidents have won 24 PAC titles and are again the favorite to win the conference as they were in eight of the last 16 preseason polls. W&J returns 18 starters, nine from an offense that ranked seventh in the nation with more than 500 yards per game and 15th in the country with a 41.5 scoring average.

“Yes, there are some expectations floating around the program,” said 13th-year head coach Mike Sirianni, who led the Presidents to the second round of the NCAA Division III playoffs last year. “But just because we were good last year doesn’t mean that we’ll be good this year. We’ve been in this position before, but we know that it doesn’t necessarily indicate how the season will play out.”

Junior QB Pete Coughlin is back after completing 65.5 percent of his passes for 3,257 yards and 31 touchdowns in his first year as a full-time starter. He’ll be protected by the likes of senior OL Zack Crossey, a unanimous preseason first team All-America selection and two-time, all-PAC first team selection. W&J is “loaded” at defensive line, according to Sirianni, led by senior DE Jon Turner, who was an all-region selection after registering 11.5 sacks last year.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR: W&J keeping its foot on the throttle. Sirianni claims his team peaked too early last year, reaching a nadir with a 31-28 overtime loss to Waynesburg in the regular-season finale. Look for more playing time by reserves to keep the Presidents fresh, especially if W&J wins at Thomas More in week four, followed by four of its final six games at home.


New Thomas More head coach Regis Scafe.

New Thomas More head coach Regis Scafe.

Thomas More (8-2, 7-1 PAC) may have shared the PAC title with W&J last year, and its only two losses last year were to teams that advanced to the second round of the NCAA playoffs, but the Saints lost 51-28 to W&J and they will have a new coach for the first time in eight years as former John Carroll head coach Regis Scafe takes over for Jim Hilvert. The adjustment will be eased by 19 starters returning, including third-year QB Jensen Gebhardt (2,235 yards, 17 TDs in 2014).

Only four teams posted winning records last year, and Thomas More will not play Bethany (6-5, 5-3 PAC) for the second straight year. Bethany returns 17 starters, including all five offensive linemen and senior WR Eric Blinn, the PAC’s leading receiver with 9.6 catches per game.

“This has a chance to be a great season for our program,” said third-year head coach Bill Garvey.

That leaves Waynesburg (8-3, 6-2 PAC), a team Thomas More beat 21-14 on the road last year, as the remaining contender in this tier. Waynesburg will benefit from a solid offensive line and all-conference, all-purpose back Willie Leavell returning. However, the Yellow Jackets are without a quarterback entering the season after the graduation of two-time, first-team all-PAC signal-caller Carter Hill.

“We are going to start a rookie quarterback … and I mean a rookie,” said Waynesburg 11th-year head coach Rick Shepas, emphasizing a possible freshman under center.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR: Perhaps Waynesburg will have a quarterback established by the time the Jackets close the season with appointments at Thomas More and W&J to end the season. But look out when Bethany comes to town Sept. 26. The Bison return a defense led by All-America defensive end Nadim Raddar. The reigning PAC Defensive Player of the Year led the league with 12.5 sacks and a quarter of his tackles were for losses. He had 9 stops — and only a half sack – in Bethany’s 33-27 win over Waynesburg last year.

Six PAC teams won either three or four games last year. Who will emerge from mediocrity and secure a winning record this year?


Westminster starting QB Paul Columbo.

How about Westminster (4-6, 4-4 PAC)? The Titans overcame some hard luck early in the season before winning four out of five games including their last three. They lost to Bethany in overtime, Carnegie Mellon on 50-yard, crossbar-aided field goal and Waynesburg by five points. The Titans return 19 starters, including sophomore QB Paul Columbo (2,197 yards, 21 TDs in 2014) and all five offensive linemen.

After an 0-10 season in 2013, Saint Vincent (4-6, 4-4 PAC) continues to rise, as the Bearcats welcome back 17 starters including three-time all-PAC linebacker Renny LaRue-Holloman.

“We’re never satisfied and we’re not going to be satisfied (with a four-win improvement),” said second-year head coach Ron Dolciato, who took over the program with 55 players and will now have 160 players report to campus this month. “We’re changing the culture of the program.”

Carnegie Mellon (4-6, 3-5 PAC) and Case Western Reserve (3-7, 3-5 PAC) are University Athletic Association (UAA) members who compete in the PAC as affiliate members and were eligible for the league crown for the first time last year. Case, entering last year with seven straight winning seasons, figured to be a contender in the PAC, especially after beating its rival CMU, 30-0, in the season opener. But neither of the UAA teams could gain much footing, particularly in a league where offense comes easy. Look for Case to bounce back this year with 18 returning starters. CMU, meanwhile, returns 23 players who started at least three games last year.

Thiel (4-6, 3-5 PAC) and Geneva (3-7, 2-6 PAC) are the least likely teams to emerge from this tier with winning records. Thiel ranked in the top third of the PAC in offense last year but the bottom third in defense. Look for more of the same with junior QB Ryan Radke (school-record 2,946 total yards in 2014) back as one of seven returning starters on offense and only five returning starters on defense, mostly in the secondary.

Geneva returns 17 starters and the Golden Tornadoes beat Bethany and Saint Vincent last year, but longtime head coach Geno DeMarco acknowledged that the transition from a successful NAIA program to a contender in NCAA Division III has been “painfully slow.”

WHAT TO WATCH FOR: Improvements made by second-year coaches. With Dolciato at Saint Vincent and Scott Benzel at Westminster more established with recruiting and implementing their systems, it will be interesting to see which way these programs go, especially by the time they play each other at Westminster on Oct. 31.

Grove City (0-10, 0-8 PAC) was 30-30 in its previous six seasons before last year’s winless campaign. The Wolverines have a lot of work to do.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR: Grove City has a large senior class of at least 22 fourth-year players and 32nd-year head coach Chris Smith will retire after the season. Former Grove City quarterback Andrew DiDonato was brought in to succeed Smith after serving a one-year apprenticeship this year as offensive coordinator. At what point during the season will Grove City start playing for the future?



NCAA Baseball D-III Mideast Regionals at W&J: A Look at the Field

By Justin Zackal

W&J beat Thomas More, 17-5, to win the PAC title.

W&J beat Thomas More Saturday, 17-5, to win the PAC title.

Washington & Jefferson is playing at home so it’s fitting that the Presidents feel like they are playing with house money when they host the NCAA Division III Baseball Mideast Regional May 13-17.  When hosting conference tournaments, which W&J has done eight of the last 11 years at Ross Memorial Park, the host is typically the top-seeded team and feels pressure to win it all.

Not for the regional.

W&J was picked to host its first-ever regional before the season, regardless if it qualified. By winning the Presidents’ Athletic Conference (PAC) tournament last weekend at Thomas More as the fourth-seeded team, the Presidents enter the Mideast Regional as the last of six-seeded teams.

“We want to enjoy it,” said 13th-year W&J head coach Jeff Mountain, who in addition to his five PAC titles has led the Presidents to their fifth NCAA regional appearance. “This is not a situation where it’s unfamiliar. Experience helps, but last year’s team was expected to do things. This year it’s like you’re playing with house money and you can just let it fly.”

Last year’s team failed to live up to the expectations of the 2013 team that went 33-13 and finished third in the Mideast Regional, the team’s highest finish. W&J didn’t qualify for regionals last year after losing in the PAC finals as the top-seeded tournament host.

“Rarely are we the hunter; usually we are the hunted,” Mountain said. “We’ll approach it as if we’re the underdog and use some of that free-and-easy (mentality) where, ‘Hey, the pressure’s on the top teams.’”

The winner of the double-elimination, six-team Mideast Regional will advance to the eight-team national championship May 22-27 in Appleton, Wisc. Here’s a glance at each of the Mideast Regional teams:

RHP Bennett Schlitz is one of three imposing starters for the Bobcats.

RHP Bennett Schlitz is one of three imposing starters for the Bobcats.

#1 FROSTBURG STATE (37-6). The Capital Athletic Conference champions are ranked No. 2 in the NCBWA/ poll with the most wins in school history. The Bobcats are the top-ranked team in the South Region, but because of NCAA travel restrictions, Frostburg State gets to leave its region for a closer regional tournament site. The Bobcats will open against W&J on Wednesday at noon. This will be a rematch of an April 28 game that Frostburg State won 5-0. However, Frostburg State had already won its conference title and W&J was saving pitchers in the midst of its league play. Good luck if you can stack pitchers against Frostburg though. W&J already saw Bobcat pitcher Greg Schneider (1.84 ERA, 7-1), who struck out 10 with 1 walk and 5 hits in 8 innings, but Frostburg also has Clayton Freimuth (1.66, 8-2) and Bennett Schlitz (1.38, 9-0). Schneider and Freimuth have combined to strike out more than 1.2 batters per inning.

#2 ADRIAN (33-10). The Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association champions are making their eighth straight regional appearance. The Bulldogs have won eight of their last nine games. Sophomore shortstop Ryan Dorow is batting .404 with 10 homers this season.

#3 HEIDELBERG (31-12). The ninth-ranked team in the poll didn’t win its conference title, losing to Marietta in the Ohio Athletic Conference tournament. The Student Princes instead received the at-large bid and are led by an offense that scores 8.7 runs per game, good for ninth in the nation, behind junior OF Derek Hug and his batting average/on-base/slugging slash line of .387/.467/.714.

#4 LA ROCHE (30-11). The back-to-back champions out of the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference have a team slash line of .333/.418/.499 that each ranks in the top 18 in the nation. The Redhawks are 3-1 against teams in the Mideast field, having swept Frostburg State, 2-1 and 8-4 on May 2, and split with W&J, losing 4-1 and winning 7-5 on April 26.

#5 SHENANDOAH (27-8-1). The Hornets are ranked 10th in poll, but are unranked in their region, which usually points to a weaker schedule. Nonetheless, Shenandoah won its first-ever Old Dominion Athletic Conference championship thanks to tournament MVP Darrell Thompson tossing a complete game in the finals, but three other Hornet starters have lower ERAs than Thompson’s 2.38. In fact, Shenandoah’s 2.66 team ERA is sixth in the nation, while Frostburg (2.73) and Adrian (2.78) are seventh and eighth.

#6 WASHINGTON & JEFFERSON (28-15). Sophomore pitcher Riley Groves (9-1, 1.59 ERA) will get the ball for the Presidents in the first game against Frostburg State, but it was senior Jared Baird (6-3, 2.71 ERA) who got W&J through the PAC tournament. Baird won two games in two days with a combined line of 16 innings, 17 hits, 6 runs (2 earned), 1 walk and 9 strikeouts. Mountain acknowledged that it’s not ideal to ask so much from a pitcher, but Baird is a guy who demanded the ball.

“He has a big heart and a lot of toughness,” Mountain said. “What he did was something I’ve never seen in playoff baseball.”

Sophomore OF Nick Vento (.381) is W&J’s top hitter, but freshman OF Gannon Rooney is a .298 hitter who is coming off a 5-for-6 game with a homer in the PAC finals, a 17-5 win over Thomas More.

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

PAC Softball Championships Photo Gallery: Thomas More vs. Bethany (5-2-15)

PAC Softball Championships Photo Gallery: St. Vincent vs. Bethany (5-2-15)