Seton Hill returns to D-II playoffs for fourth consecutive year
The Seton Hill University athletics complex, nestled in a valley behind the main campus buildings in Greensburg, is home to one of the best-kept secrets in area college baseball.
The more recognizable names in Division II -- the programs with rich traditions, such as Slippery Rock, Mercyhurst and California (Pa.) — are staying home for the postseason, while coach Marc Marizzaldi and Seton Hill are making their fourth consecutive trip to an NCAA regional.
“We've got some Division I-caliber players, no question,” Marizzaldi said. “You don't have the type of success we've had without that. What matters to me is that the recruits are watching, the scouts are watching and our opponents certainly understand who we are.”
Seton Hill (39-15) received an at-large bid out of the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference and is seeded third in the Atlantic Regional in Winston-Salem, N.C. Its first-round opponent on Thursday is fourth-seeded Shippensburg (28-20), an at-large selection representing the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference.
The winner will face second-seeded Winston Salem State (38-11) or fifth-seeded East Stroudsburg (33-16). The loser will meet top-seeded Millersville (38-16) or sixth-seeded Concord (36-18).
“The sky is the limit for these guys,” Marizzaldi said. “We have our weaknesses — pitching depth and defense come to mind — but if we play to our ability, we can compete for a national championship.”
Seton Hill, in its final season in the WVIAC, will join the PSAC next season, and the Griffins are likely to have back some of the top players from the WVIAC this year.
And, arguably, the league's top coach.
Seton Hill swept the WVIAC postseason awards, a rare feat in any league.
While Marizzaldi was named coach of the year, Seton Hill sophomore third baseman Nick Sell, a North Allegheny High School product, was voted as player and hitter of the year, and lefthander Alex Haines, from Hempfield, was named pitcher of the year.
“I've been throwing a baseball since I can't remember when,” said the 6-foot-4, 215-pound Haines, who is 6-2 with a 2.81 ERA, four complete games, two shutouts and 68 strikeouts in 57 2⁄3 innings. “I love the game.”
Haines has rebounded from Tommy John surgery in his elbow earlier in his career to become a dominating pitcher, with his fastball reaching 95 mph at times. He is projected by some scouting reports to be taken in the first seven rounds in the Major League draft in June.
“I'm trying to stay focused on the team, but I'm not going to lie,” Haines said,” I think about it sometimes.”
Sell, the leading hitter in Division II with a .466 average, has 12 home runs — including three in one game — and 53 RBI, to lead Seton Hill in all three categories.
Senior catcher Mike Cima, a Penn-Trafford graduate, who is in his first year as a regular, has contributed 11 homers and 49 RBI.
“I'm not surprised with the success we've had here,” said Sell, one of three area players who are candidates for the Tino Martinez Award as Division II's top player. “We've been able to get some very talented recruits to commit.”
Utility players Kyle Petty of California (Pa.) and Shayne Herold of Gannon also are in the running for the award.
Seton Hill's success is a result of a formula that Marizzaldi hopes to continue. He credits a large portion of his upperclassmen with sticking to the plan of providing depth as underclassmen before eventually taking over as the team's leaders.
“Some of these guys have been riding the bench for nearly their entire career, waiting for their turn,” he said. “That's a tribute to the system we've built. When they've gotten their turn, they've produced.”
Cima is batting .374 and senior first baseman Brad Comport, from North Allegheny, another first-year starter, is batting .274.
Marizzaldi, a former Duquesne University player and assistant coach, owns a 333-192 mark since Seton Hill's program began in 2004 as an NAIA team. He said there's no valid reason why the Griffins won't continue to flourish.
And a good showing in the impending NCAA Tournament certainly can't hurt.
Dave Mackall is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.