Westmoreland County collegiate baseball teams have high expectations for 2013
Amid cold temperatures and steady snow flurries, 18 Major League Baseball scouts were at Seton Hill University on Sunday to get a glimpse of junior lefthander Alex Haines.
The 6-foot-4, 215-pound Hempfield graduate didn't disappoint, striking out nine batters and walking just one during 4 2⁄3 innings of a 9-5 season-opening victory over Le Moyne.
It marked the official start of the college baseball season in Westmoreland County, where Seton Hill enters its final year in the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference as the favorite to win the league championship.
A big reason is Haines, ranked as the No. 1 pitching prospect in NCAA Division II by the publication Baseball America.
“If Alex has another good season, he's expected to be a top-five round pick in the draft,” Seton Hill coach Marc Marizzaldi said. “He has superb control and has become a very good pitcher.
“Alex has improved unbelievably since his freshman year. He was a one-pitch guy, a hard thrower. He's changed physically, and now he's learned to be a pitcher. He understands the game and he has confidence and experience.”
The county's three other schools — St. Vincent, Pitt-Greensburg and Westmoreland County Community College — are scheduled to open their seasons this weekend.
Seton Hill, which will join the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference in 2014, came within two games of playing in their first Division II World Series in 2012, losing to eventual national champion West Chester. They reached the NAIA World Series in 2006.
“West Chester played its best down the stretch and ran the table,” said Marizzaldi, in his 10th season at Seton Hill. “We played our best a little earlier in the season.”
Seton Hill will rely on starting pitchers for continued success. Haines (7-2 in 2012) will be joined by righthanders Brad Schnelle (9-0) and Brett Sullivan (6-2). The trio combined for a 22-4 record as Seton Hill posted a school-record 46-11 mark.
“We have to develop a bullpen,” Marizzaldi said. “We have some young arms that must come through.”
Baseball America also predicts Seton Hill to finish second in the Division II World Series, but Marizzaldi said he isn't looking that far.
“It's kind of a bittersweet move,” he said. “The last two years we were 56-7 in the conference. It's hard to walk away. We're moving to a better situation, a high-caliber conference. We've only won one conference championship, but we've earned back-to-back NCAA berths.”
Third baseman Nick Sell, who hit 11 home runs and had 55 RBI in 2012, returns after earning second-team All-America honors. He'll get help from shortstop Brendon Costantino (78 hits, 43 RBI), second baseman Pat McCarthy (41 hits) and first baseman Mike Cima, who had two doubles and four RBI against Le Moyne.
Seton Hill continues its schedule on Saturday and Sunday at Florida Tech.
The Bearcats, entering their seventh season in NCAA Division III, are hoping to build on their first Presidents' Athletic Conference playoffs appearance in 2012 with the return of all-conference players Jared Haller and Brad Burkhardt.
St. Vincent's 24 victories were just three shy of the school's single-season record set in 2003.
“We have a lot of guys returning who experienced success and played in the postseason last year,” coach Mick Janosko said. “Like any athlete, when you get a taste of that, you want more. Our goal is to win a conference championship.”
Haller, a senior lefthander from Anaheim, Calif., was named to the PAC first team after setting two St. Vincent records. He finished the year 10-3 with a 2.91 ERA. His 10 victories eclipsed the previous mark of nine and led the PAC, and his 89 2⁄3 innings pitched bettered the old record of 83.
Burkhardt, a Latrobe graduate, led St. Vincent with a .378 batting average and 56 hits in 42 games. He enters the year with a chance to break the school record of 183 career hits by two-time NAIA All-American Danny Consuegra from 2003-06.
St. Vincent opens against Wittenberg on Sunday in Winter Haven, Fla., the first of seven games in the Sunshine State.
The Bobcats enter their second season under coach Anthony Williams after posting the school's first winning record (21-19) in 2012. UPG also played host to its first Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference tournament game as the No. 3 team, its highest-ever seed.
UPG, which led Division III with a .510 slugging percentage and was second in home runs with 37, must overcome the loss of slugging third baseman Bryan Colish, who paced the Bobcats with nine home runs and a .658 slugging percentage, and first-team all-conference catcher Garrett Herald.
Williams, though, is confident that the Bobcats will continue to improve. They're scheduled to play their first game against Division II Lock Haven on Saturday at Point Stadium in Johnstown.
“We have a championship caliber team,” he said. “The guys believe we can win. We were a couple of wins away from making a deeper run in the tournament last year. We lost some guys, but we're deeper on the mound and with our defense. Those are things that we've improved. These guys are very motivated. They've got a lot of confidence in what we can do.”
Infielder Dylin Brooks (Norwin) and outfielder Dan Moyer, a Hempfield graduate, earned second- and third-team selections, respectively for UPG last season. Brooks led UPG with a .373 batting average as the Bobcats' leadoff hitter. He scored 45 runs and stole 14 bases. Moyer batted .341 — nearly 100 points higher than the previous year — with five home runs and 35 RBI.
Westmoreland County Community College
If the Wolfpack hope to earn their second trip in three seasons to the National Junior College Athletic Association World Series, coach Mike Draghi said that developing a strong pitching staff is a must.
“Pitching obviously will be a key to the season,” he said. “We have guys who can do it. They must work their way through it.”
Outfielder/pitcher Logan Douglas, catcher/pitcher Nick Draghi, shortstop Tyler Heydorn and pitcher/infielder Jordan Truscott are key returnees for their sophomore season. Draghi also said he's counting on three incoming freshmen — pitcher/third base Frank Wolford, outfielder/pitcher Matt Shoemaker and outfielder/pitcher Tyler Lilja — to make an impact.
While WCCC competes in the Western Pennsylvania Collegiate Conference, Draghi said the team's chief goal is to win the NJCAA Division III Region XX tournament championship. WCCC begins play Saturday at Allegany (Md.) Community College.