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Point Park baseball team works to avoid repeat of history

| Sunday, May 11, 2014, 10:02 p.m.

The sting still hurts for Point Park's baseball team.

Last year, the Pioneers hoped to make their second straight trip to the NAIA World Series. Instead, they dropped both games in the tournament's opening round to end their season at 39-16.

Point Park's players remember that feeling, and it's something they don't want to experience again.

“I feel like we went into the (opening round) taking it too lightly,” said senior pitcher Jon Corcoran, a Fox Chapel product. “We had a couple of bad starts right off the bat and couldn't come back. They were definitely beatable teams, but we just didn't show up to play.”

The 19th-ranked Pioneers (40-16) begin their quest for the NAIA World Series on Monday when they travel to Indiana to face Mt.Vernon Nazarene (42-10), which is ranked 21st.

“We have to play good baseball and see if it takes us to Idaho and the ultimate goal of reaching the World Series,” Point Park coach Loren Torres said. “It's tough, especially in baseball, when you're playing a double-elimination tournament. When you play a series that's best of five or seven, the best team shows. When you're in a double-elimination situation, there's no room for one bad day.”

The Pioneers are focused on getting back to the NAIA World Series, but they understand they have to earn the trip to Idaho.

“We still have seven or eight guys from that 2012 World Series team on this team,” said senior second baseman Tom Birko, a Montour gradute. “They all went through the disappointment last year. I think that could help us.”

Point Park generated some momentum with a 3-0 run to capture its second-straight KIAC Tournament title.

“Whenever everyone shows up to play, there are not a lot of teams who can beat us,” Corcoran said. “We have four of the best starters. And Toby (Eigner) and I come out of the bullpen, and we do what we can do to help the team out.

“I can see a lot of potential. I feel this is one of our best teams. Pitching takes you deep into the playoffs, and everyone is peaking at the right time.”

The Pioneers rank seventh in the NAIA with a .340 batting average. They are 21st with a 3.14 ERA. Point Park has nine regulars hitting .335 or better, led by Oscar Romero's team-best .428 average and 44 RBIs.

At the KIAC Tournament, Birko set a program record for career hits. He has 218.

“I want to keep adding to it. ... I don't want it to end at 218,” Birko said. “Our pitchers have been really consistent. We have great starters, and the bullpen has been doing well.

“The games we've lost, our hitting hasn't come around. Overall, though, our hitting is phenomenal. We score a lot of runs.”

Point Park's seniors hope to lead by example.

“A lot of the team has been together for three years now. We're really close,” Corcoran said. “We've all come together. We're all leading the younger guys and showing them we have a chance to do something special and trying to make them believe we can do it. We can't wait to play.”

The five-team opening round wraps up with Wednesday's 7 p.m. championship. The nine bracket winners advance to the NAIA World Series, which takes place May 23 to 30 in Lewistown, Idaho.

Joe Sager is a freelance writer.

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