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PS Greater Allegheny baseball gets motivation from last year's finish

| Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013, 12:56 a.m.

On the surface, it might not seem like the Penn State Greater Allegheny baseball team has anything to play for this season.

As the host team for the United States Collegiate Athletic Association Small College World Series, the Lions receive an automatic bye into the tournament, so they won't have to play what amounts to a truly meaningful game until May 5 at Pullman Park in Butler.

But Greater Allegheny has a lot to play for after it fell short of qualifying for the national tournament in 2012.

“We have a sour taste in our mouth after the way our season ended last year,” said Greater Allegheny coach Jim Chester, who will enter his sixth year at the helm. “The way we've built our program, we've become a favorite every year, and, when we don't finish the job, it just becomes that much more motivation for the young men and the work they've done here in the offseason.”

Greater Allegheny entered the 2012 season brimming with confidence after it won the Penn State University Athletic Conference title and ended its year with a third-place showing in the USCAA World Series. But despite the Lions coming in as the preseason pick to win the PSUAC title, the team finished a disappointing third in both the regular season and in the conference tournament.

That finish remains the motivating factor as Greater Allegheny (28-15 overall, 15-6 in the conference in 2012) opens the 2013 campaign at noon Friday with a doubleheader at California (Pa.) University. The Lions and Trojans will be the first collegiate teams in Western Pennsylvania to begin play this season.

“We have most of the guys back from (last year's) team, and they believe that losing in the tournament last year was a fluke,” Chester said. “We're on a mission, and we're going to come out and be ready to compete and that motivational factor is going to put a little fire in our bellies as we head into the season.”

One of the things that will help Greater Allegheny is having an experienced pitching staff that goes 12 deep. What will also help is that two of those key contributors are sophomores with quite a few innings under their belts.

Right-hander Eddie Emes, who was 5-3 and led the team with 53 strikeouts in 52.1 innings and four complete games, will head in as the team's most experienced starter. Serra Catholic alumnus Oliver Girman, who led the team last season with a 2.25 ERA, will start in center field and be counted on in middle relief.

Greater Allegheny added a few solid arms, including freshman lefthander Zach Krivda (McKeesport) and junior right-handed transfer Evan James.

“I really believe that nobody in our conference is going to match our pitching depth,” Chester said. “We are going to be able to outlast teams with some of the things we like to do offensively and try to get into people's bullpens. But getting into our bullpen will be getting into our strength.”

Greater Allegheny had an impressive .327 team batting average in 2012 led by Sam Weightman at .403 with five homers, but the team went into an overall hitting slump late in the season, which contributed to the Lions' postseason collapse. Getting consistent hitting throughout the year will be the one factor that could vault the Lions past their best finish in the World Series, a third place in 2011.

“The goals never change: to qualify for the conference tournament, win the conference tournament and play for the national title,” Chester said. “I really believe that this group has a chance to do all three.”

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