Former Elizabeth Forward star pitcher dominating foes at Mercyhurst

| Sunday, April 6, 2014, 10:20 p.m.

Maybe it wasn't one of Dan Altavilla's better games.

Perhaps it was a stinker by his standards because he walked four and was charged with a wild pitch.

But most guys playing college baseball would take Saturday's outing by the former Elizabeth Forward star, and they'd love it.

Turns out Altavilla, a junior righthander at Mercyhurst, wasn't too disappointed. He said he threw the ball pretty well — as usual — despite the mild case of wildness.

The 5-foot-11, 200-pounder, who at times can touch 95 mph, struck out 10 Pitt-Johnstown batters and settled for a no-decision in the first game of a Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference doubleheader on Saturday in Johnstown.

“He's a very special athlete and a very special kid,” Mercyhurst coach Joe Spano said. “He's really got the whole package. He's nearly a 4.0 student, and he's got some pro-type stuff, pitching-wise.”

Mercyhurst was beaten 2-1 after UPJ touched reliever Jake Hall for a run in the bottom of the eighth.

Altavilla, who pitched Elizabeth Forward to the 2011 WPIAL Class AAA championship, entered the game having walked just eight batters in 33 23 innings. His total reached 12, while his record remained stuck at 4-0 and his ERA rose to 1.33 after he threw 112 pitches in seven innings.

Impressive numbers in an NCAA Division II league that saw seven players taken in the 2013 Major League Baseball Draft, including Altavilla's former teammate, shortstop Zak Blair, chosen by the Chicago Cubs.

“I've come a long way,” Altavilla said. “I think it's just a matter of maturing on the mound. In high school, I used my fastball and I dabbled with a curveball. You can get away with that and get strikeouts.”

Developing relationships with his pitching coaches at Mercyhurst has been a big key to his development at the collegiate level, he said. It helped him to specialize.

As college freshman, Altavilla was used as a reliever, adding a slider and changeup and gaining better command of his fastball.

“My hard work has paid off my whole life,” said Altavilla, who played last summer in the highly regarded Cape Cod Baseball League. “I believe that was what got me to a great team at Mercyhurst. There are great coaches and great teammates here.”

That no-decision Saturday, the one where Altavilla walked four and uncorked a wild pitch, could be seen as below his standards, indeed. After all, Altavilla is the two-time Eastern College Athletic Conference pitcher of the week.

He threw a no-hitter against Clarion for his second consecutive shutout on March 22, then followed it up five days later with a five-hit shutout of Gannon.

The no-hitter, which Altavilla said gave him “a great feeling,” was the second of his baseball career. He also threw one in high school.

“He's got a lot of interest from pro scouts,” Spano said. “He's just so focused on school, though, that he probably doesn't even get that yet. He's just a guy who won't stop working.”

After posting a 5-0 record and a team-leading 0.91 ERA in 17 relief appearances as a freshman in 2012, Altavilla made the transition back to starting in 2013, struggling at times to a 5-5 record with a 5.17 ERA. He had 66 strikeouts in 62 23 innings.

It was a learning time, not a wasted year, because Altavilla is back to top form this season, settling into a leadership role in the Mercyhurst rotation. The Lakers rode others in that rotation Sunday to improve to 18-8 overall and 10-4 in the PSAC with a doubleheader sweep of UPJ in Erie.

“Dan had a terrific freshman year after we told him he was going to be in the bullpen,” Spano said. “He just ran with it and worked hard. It was a transition for him to be a starter at this level last year. Even though his numbers weren't that good, you just knew he was going to be good.”

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