PACSN Blog

PAC Men’s Basketball 2017-18 Preview: Stars are Aligned for a Competitive Year

By Justin Zackal

Reigning PAC Player of the Year, Tyreik Burton, and the Thiel Tomcats are hoping this is their season to win the PAC.

Every year coaches are going to boast about how tough it is to play in their conference that it can also be tough to take such platitudes seriously. But when Thiel College men’s basketball coach Tim Loomis said that the Presidents’ Athletic Conference this year is “the best it’s ever been” and “from top to bottom, anyone can win this league,” he was not exaggerating.

There are three reasons for this, according to Loomis, two of which are the raised standards in recruiting and coaching, but the other is more coincidental: the stars are aligned for the 2017-18 PAC men’s basketball season, meaning all the stars are coming back.

Twenty-one of the highest 22 scoring averages last year are returning, including the league’s top 15 scorers and each team’s leading scorer. All 10 teams are returning at least three starters, including three with four and three with five. Eight of the 10 players named all-PAC last year are back as well.

“Recruiting efforts have amped up the last two years, good players are returning on all the teams and there’s better coaching,” Loomis said. “It’s going to make it very competitive this year.”

Loomis welcomes back the reigning PAC Player of the Year in senior guard Tyreik Burton, who led the league with a 18.0 scoring average a year ago. According to Loomis, Burton has Division-I quickness and because it’s rare to see a defensive equivalent at the Division III level, Burton’s presence alone can open up shots for teammates.

One teammate who Loomis considers just as much of a player of the year candidate as Burton is senior forward Josh Lumbus, who averaged 12 points and 5.6 rebounds last year. Both Burton and Lumbus did not finish the season, nor did they play in the conference tournament because of knee injuries.

Coaching experience is also a prevailing theme. Loomis is entering his 12th season and he’s only the fourth longest tenured coach, while the remaining six coaches are entering at least their third season at their school.

Thomas More broke up Saint Vincent’s four-year run as PAC champion by winning its first league title since 2009. But, as Loomis indicated, anyone can win it this year. Here are the teams listed in their predicted order of finish in this year’s coaches’ poll with last year’s overall and PAC records in parentheses:

SAINT VINCENT (21-7, 15-3)
For the first time since 2012, the Bearcats are not entering the season as defending champs, but head coach D.P. Harris is returning four of five starters, including senior guard Matt D’Amico (12.6 ppg), but that’s not including senior forward Tom Kromka, who was named first-team all-PAC despite coming off the bench and averaging 11.9 points and 7.6 rebounds.

THOMAS MORE (22-7, 15-3)
The Saints return all five starters from last year’s PAC championship team, including four juniors who averaged at least 7.3 points per game, led by guard Damion King and his team-best 14.1 average. Fifth-year head coach Drew Cooper’s team led the league in scoring (78.0), average scoring margin (+8.7) and average rebound margin (+4.7) last year. They also enter the year having played Kentucky and Xavier in preseason exhibition games.

WESTMINSTER (17-12, 11-7)
The Titans return three of five starters for sixth-year head coach Kevin Siroki. Senior forward/guard Deontay Scott averaged 13.7 points and a PAC-best 9.4 rebounds last year, and he will be joined again in the frontcourt by Jarret Vrabel (13.4 ppg, 8.0 rpg).

THIEL (16-9, 11-7)
Loomis said his Tomcats will be deeper this year and they’ll be able to play at a faster pace, especially at guard with sophomores Terrance Holloway and Nyric Gosley getting up to speed as freshman last year, especially after Burton went down with his injury. Thiel hasn’t won the PAC title since 2000. This could be the year.

BETHANY (17-13, 9-9)
The Bison lost Antonio Rudolph, the only first-team all-PAC player and the league’s only top-22 scorer not to come back. But this year’s team will be more about who is returning, as in three starters and their top two scorers from last year: senior guards Calique Jones (14.8 ppg) and Andrew Williams (12.8 ppg).

GROVE CITY (12-14, 8-10)
Steve Lamie enters his 20th season as head coach of the Wolverines seeking the team’s first PAC title since 2010. If they do it this year it’ll be because of their 6-foot-6 big men, Andrew Beckman (13.6 ppg, 7.4 rpg) and Cory Huff (14.8 ppg, 7.2 rpg), who account for two of the team’s four returning starters.

CHATHAM (10-16, 6-12)
All five starters are back for Chatham’s third year of varsity basketball, including junior guard/forward Alex Schoppen, who averaged 12.0 points per game last year. Isaiah Brown (11.5 ppg) and Anthony Bomar (7.2 ppg, 5.9 rpg) are also back.

GENEVA (10-16, 7-11)
The PAC’s longest tenured coach, Geneva’s Jeff Santarsiero, welcomes back three of five starters for his 21st season. The Golden Tornadoes typically rely on one or two players to do most of their scoring and last year was no different. Sophomore guard Ethan Moose (16.2 ppg) and senior forward Jimmy Leichliter (15.5 ppg) ranked second and fourth in the league in scoring, but as a team the GTs were sixth (70.6 ppg).

WAYNESBURG (6-19, 4-14)
The Yellow Jackets return three starters, including senior forward Jon Knab, who ranked third in the league in scoring last year with 16.0 points per game. Waynesburg hasn’t won the PAC since 1996, which would be the longest drought if not for …

WASHINGTON & JEFFERSON (4-21, 4-14)
… Washington & Jefferson, which has not won the PAC since 1995, the last of four straight years the Presidents won the league. The Presidents return all five starters from last year, including two senior Brians, Lindquist (13.0 ppg, 5.5 rpg) at forward and Graytok (11.4 ppg, 3.4 apg) at guard.

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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).

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PAC Softball Championship Preview: Thomas More Looks to Break Host-Team Hex

By Justin Zackal

Dallis Knotts and the Thomas More Saints look to break the “home-team hex” at this year’s PAC softball championships.

Thomas More clinched home field in this weekend’s PAC Softball Championship Tournament last Friday by sweeping a doubleheader at Westminster, the site of last year’s tournament.

Sure, it was meaningful for the Saints (32-8, 18-0 PAC) to beat the second-place Titans (26-10, 14-4 PAC) and finish the conference schedule unbeaten. But Thomas More head coach Lindsay Egan could only think about two things that will happen off the field this week.

“We get to sleep in our own beds and it we get to take our finals when we need to take them,” Eagan said.

Like many schools, Thomas More will take final exams for the spring semester this week, but unlike any other team in the PAC, traveling as anything but the top seed would mean a hotel stay and more than a four-hour drive to Pennsylvania or West Virginia from Kentucky.

Thomas More will take home field over any hocus-pocus about how the top-seeded host team has not won the PAC tournament since 2011. Thomas More won five of the last 10 PAC championships but only the 2009 Saints won on their home field. The other time Thomas More hosted the tournament was in 2014, but third-seeded Washington & Jefferson won the title that year.

“It’s the game of softball,” said Eagan, attempting to explain what has plagued home teams. “Anybody can win on any given day.”

In last year’s PAC tournament at Westminster, third-seeded Saint Vincent beat fourth-seeded Bethany, 1-0, in the final game, after the Bearcats handed Thomas More both of its losses in the double-elimination tournament, 1-0 and 4-3.

Eagan points to players peaking at the right time as making a difference. Saint Vincent pitcher Samantha Emert won four games to earn Most Outstanding Player honors. Emert is back as a senior this year, ranking in the top four in the PAC in ERA (1.60, third), strikeouts (94, fourth) and wins (15-6, fourth), while leading Saint Vincent (18-14, 11-7 PAC) again as the third-seeded team.

Westminster’s Jazmyn Rohrer could be this year’s peak performer. The junior pitcher leads the PAC with an 0.98 ERA, 16-3 record, six shutouts and her 121 strikeouts rank second, this despite Thomas More blemishing her marks with eight runs (six earned) off 11 hits in last Friday’s 8-0 win that clinched the Saints home-field advantage.

Standout junior 1B Shelby Noel hopes to lead Saint Vincent to back-to-back PAC crowns.

Saint Vincent junior first baseman Shelby Noel is the top hitter in the PAC with a .465 batting averaging and 25 extra-base hits, including eight homers. However, Thomas More has four of the top seven hitters in the league, led by freshman infielder Andrea Gahan (.441).

“Our squad, anybody can have a good day,” Eagan said. “It’s somebody new every day. That helps the team win.”

Thomas More is out to win its sixth PAC title and first since 2015, while both Saint Vincent (2016) and Westminster (2005) are seeking their second PAC titles. Fourth-seeded Thiel (16-18, 11-7 PAC) has never won the league crown.

The PAC Sports Network (www.pacstream.net) will broadcast all the games at Thomas More starting Friday with Saint Vincent vs. Westminster at 10 a.m., followed by Thiel vs. Thomas More at noon, the two losers from the first two games at 2 p.m. and the two winners at 4 p.m. Saturday’s games are at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. (if necessary).

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11 Topics to Preview the Thomas More Men in the NCAA Tournament

2017 PAC champion Thomas More men’s basketball team.

By Justin Zackal

The Thomas More men’s basketball team is on a roll, so to prepare you for the Saints’ Division III NCAA tournament appearance this week, we’re going with 11 topics with responses from head coach Drew Cooper. Why 11? Well, funny you should ask.

THE STREAK: Thomas More has won 11 straight games, having not lost since a 63-61 setback at Grove City Jan. 21. What happened that made Thomas More double its win total from a 11-6 record to 22-6 in a little over a month? “If I knew I would bottle it up and sell it,” Cooper quipped.

THE REASON: Seriously, Coach, was it a new play? “It’s nothing tactical,” he said. “It’s just the confidence our kids are playing with right now. It’s unlike anything I’ve seen.”

THE EXPECTATIONS: Even though Thomas More is rather young (one senior on the roster, three sophomore starters) and Saint Vincent was a four-time defending champion, the Saints were picked to win the PAC in the preseason poll. Then Thomas More lost three PAC road games, two by a combined four points and one at Saint Vincent by six. “I don’t think the preseason rankings does anyone any favors,” Cooper admitted. “(But) it all worked out nicely.”

THE HURDLE: It did, but not until they finally beat Saint Vincent. The last four seasons ended with losses to the Bearcats in the PAC tournament, including last year’s 65-62 road loss in the finals. Stacking this season’s regular season loss and Thomas More had lost nine straight at Saint Vincent dating back to Jan. 19, 2011. “The experience helped us,” Cooper said. “The experience of losing last year. The experience of losing at their place in January. We had to go through things like that in order to be playing our best basketball at the end of the season.”

THE CHAMPIONSHIP: That came to a head as Thomas More not only beat Saint Vincent at home, 87-78, on Feb. 15, the Saints avenged that road loss by dethroning the Bearcats in the PAC tournament championship game on Saturday, 79-68, to clinch an automatic berth in the NCAA tournament. Again, it was confidence. “In order to win the championship,” Cooper said, “we had to have young men really make some players and plays were made in the second half in the Saint Vincent game that are not made unless the kids making those plays did it with confidence.”

Sophomore guard Damion King has taken over as a “go to” player during the 2017 seasons.

THE STAR PLAYER: Sophomore guard Damion King was one of those players. A first-team all-PAC selection, King scored 24 points in the PAC finals, including 15 points on 5-of-6 shooting from 3-point range. King ranks seventh in the PAC in scoring (14.3 ppg) and he leads the league in 3-point shooting percentage (47.5%). “Damion King has gone to another level,” Cooper said. “He is a kid that just took off.”

THE TOURNAMENT DRAW: By clinching its first PAC title since 2009, Thomas More enters the NCAA tournament by playing No. 23-ranked Guilford (23-5) on Friday at 5 p.m. The game will be held at No. 7-ranked Marietta (24-4), who hosts Calvin (17-10) on Friday at 8 p.m. The two winners will meet on Saturday. “We were pleased to see we had a neutral site game as opposed to a first-round road game,” Cooper said.

THE 15-YEAR DROUGHT: The Saints are trying to become the first PAC men’s team to win an NCAA tournament game since Bethany’s first-round win over Pitt-Bradford in 2002. Saint Vincent was unable to win in the first round in each of the last four years. “We’re hoping our guys return ready to help the PAC more than anything,” Cooper said.

THE OPPONENT: Guilford, champion of the Old Dominion Athletic Conference, is making its fifth NCAA Tournament appearance and its first since 2010. The Quakers are led by a pair of sophomore forwards in Carson Long (14.3 ppg, 5.0 rpg) and Alston Thompson (11.0 ppg, 7.8 rpg). They rank third in the country in scoring defense, allowing just 61.0 points per game, and eighth in the nation with a +9.4 average rebound margin. “They’re very well coached, athletic and strong. They can disrupt offenses similar to the way Thiel does with their length and athleticism,” said Cooper, whose team led the PAC in scoring offense (78.8), average scoring (+9.7) and rebound (+5.4) margins. “They rebound the ball as well as anybody we’ve seen.”

THE PREPARATION: Since Cooper is in his fourth season at Thomas More, he wasn’t around in 2009 when the Saints last made the NCAA tournament. “Everything is a first for all of us,” Cooper said. “A lot of it relates to travel plans and practice plans, but hopefully Friday at 5 (p.m.) it’s going to come down to two 10-foot hoops and a ball and we’ll be ready to perform.”

THE GAME PLAN: No major tactical adjustments got the Saints this far, so the plan to win their 12th straight game is simple, according to Cooper: “Do it enthusiastically and confidently because that’s the way we’ve been doing it.”

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