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Point Park baseball surges into league tournament

| Wednesday, April 24, 2013, 11:16 p.m.
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Point Park coach Loren Torres' squad has won 26 of its past 28 games.
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Point Park baseball head coach Loren Torres in Green Tree Tuesday, April 16, 2013.
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Point Park baseball head coach Loren Torres in Green Tree Tuesday, April 16, 2013.

Pittsburgh native and former Point Park University baseball star Ryan Ellis lives and works in Florida for much of the year. But he keeps close ties with his alma mater, whose team is a reverse image of himself. Much of it is comprised of Florida transplants who now live in Pittsburgh.

Ellis is the second-year manager of the High Single-A St. Lucie Mets. A Steel Valley High School product, he follows the Pioneers online. He is friendly with Point Park coach Loren Torres and has worked with some of Torres' players. He takes his black Point Park T-shirt on the road for when he works out.

“I'm proud to have the connection,” said Ellis, who holds the school's single-season record for batting average (.477).

Ellis also is connected to a time when Point Park baseball thrived as an NAIA power. A 28th-round pick by Montreal, he was among three Point Park players drafted in 2000-01. Another was Don Kelly, an eighth-round pick by Detroit who plays for the Tigers.

But Kelly in '01 was the last draftee. The program struggled for several years before Torres arrived in 2009. After a 13-26 record in his first season, the Pioneers have gone 126-37 heading into the Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Tournament in New Albany, Ind. Seeded No. 1, Point Park opens with Asbury at 10 a.m. Thursday.

The Pioneers, who last season tied a school record with 53 wins and advanced to the NAIA World Series for the first time since 1998, are 35-13 this season. But that is misleading. They are 26-2 after starting 9-11. Point Park is ranked 25th in this week's NAIA poll, its first Top 25 appearance since the preseason.

“People say you have to play your best baseball at the end,” Torres said. “Us winning 26 of our last 28 games, we're pretty hot.”

Torres moved from his native Puerto Rico to south Florida as a teenager. He played, coached and scouted (for the Kansas City Royals) there, and has built a pipeline to Point Park. Nearly half the players are from the Sunshine State.

“That's where most of my contacts are,” he said.

But he also has players from Arizona, Illinois, Canada and Puerto Rico.

“We recruit nationally and internationally,” Torres said.

To attract kids to a northern school with an urban campus, he offers a chance to play, and win.

“We sell a vision,” he said. “Where we're going and how you're gonna fit into it. We have them come up and play for a coach from south Florida and play with other guys from south Florida. I tell them, if you're gonna pack your bags and go somewhere, this is a good place to be.”

One of the imports, freshman right-hander Michael Cetta, transferred from Florida State. Another, junior right-hander Manny Perdomo, pitched a no-hitter last week after coming within a hit batsman of a perfect game.

Recruited by Torres in high school, Perdomo attended St. Thomas University in Miami Gardens before transferring after his freshman year, joining two teammates who did the same thing.

“He gave me a great opportunity to play on a great team, and that's why I came here,” Perdomo said.

Senior outfielder Rob Novia said he was Torres' first Florida recruit. He said Torres saw him at a showcase camp and made his pitch.

“I love this place,” Novia said. “Point Park is awesome. The baseball is great.”

Bob Cohn is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at bcohn@tribweb.com or via Twitter@BCohn_Trib.

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