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Resurgence continues for Point Park baseball

| Monday, May 14, 2012, 12:30 a.m.

Lee Bodnar went to Chartiers Valley High School and remembers following Point Park baseball as a kid, watching players such as Detroit Tigers utilityman Don Kelly funnel through the program and marveling as the Pioneers made 10 NAIA World Series appearances in 25 years.

Now, Point Park's power-hitting third baseman has his own slice of program history.

Despite nearly frittering away one of the greatest regular seasons in program history by coming up short in the Unaffiliated Group Tournament, the Pioneers (51-9) are heading to the NAIA World Series for the first time since 1998 after three wins in the national championship opening round this past weekend in Marion, Ind.

“This is a huge deal,” Bodnar said of winning three straight games in what amounts to a regional tournament before the World Series. “Just hearing all the stories of the alumni saying how good they were … it feels great to restore that tradition.”

No. 12 Point Park will be one of 10 teams in the World Series, which starts May 25 in Lewiston, Idaho. The bracket and seedings will be released this week.

The Pioneers missed out on a regional invite last spring after getting upset in the conference tournament, but Point Park was one of 16 teams to get an at-large bid this spring and responded by tearing through No. 24 Taylor (3-2) and Doane (9-1) to reach Saturday's championship game.

“When we got the regional bid, it was definitely a wake-up call,” said Bodnar, who went 7 for 13 with three RBI over the weekend.

Playing Doane again after the Tigers knocked off defending national champion and top-seeded Concordia earlier in the tournament, Point Park built a 4-0 lead, squandered it, then used three walks to push across the winning run in the eighth inning.

The result was a 7-5 win that was a whole lot more palatable than the Unaffiliated Group Tournament, where the Pioneers suffered a pair of losses to Asbury — a team that, at the time, had lost more than twice as many games as it had won.

“We were pretty bummed out to have taken those two losses,” pitcher Sean Clark said. “But we still had high hopes, and luckily we got back on track pretty quick.”

That's one way of putting it. Another would be to point out the strong performances turned in by Clark, who went seven innings against Taylor to improve to 7-0, and closer Mike Tullio, who notched his 14th save in that game and picked up the win Saturday with 3 23 innings of work.

Center fielder Tom Pasinski was 6 for 12 with five runs, and pitcher Derek Peluso posted his team-best ninth win, but the numbers that matter most are these: Point Park was 13-33 in 2009, the year before coach Loren Torres took over. Now, Torres has Point Park back in the World Series for the first time in 14 years.

“We wanted to turn the program around as quickly as possible,” Torres said. “We wanted it to happen the first year. We tried the second year. Then the third year, we got it done.”

Jason Mackey is a freelance writer.

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