Cal U set for playoff test against West Chester
CALIFORNIA - For the fourth straight year, California University's baseball team is in the PSAC playoffs.
Unlike the last two years when the Vulcans won the West, it didn't come easy this season for coach Mike Conte's team.
Most people including Conte thought California's post-season hopes disappeared back on April 23.
That's when California dropped a doubleheader, 9-1 and 8-7, at Indiana in the showdown for second place.
The Vulcans were down two games with only four remaining.
The only way Cal could get in was to sweep Edinboro and Clarion and hope IUP would lose three of four in twinbills with West champ Slippery Rock and Edinboro.
"A lot of things had to go right and we had to take care of business," said Conte.
The Vulcans won their final four games while IUP lost two to Slippery Rock and the first game to Edinboro to send California to Boyertown.
"Hard work paid off," noted Conte.
The Vulcans (26-21) will face East champion West Chester (32-9) in Thursday's opening game at 3:30 p.m. Slippery Rock (41-8) plays Shippensburg (26-19) in the second contest at 7 p.m.
Conte likes the way the Vulcans closed the regular season.
"We're playing well right now and playing more as a team," he said. "We've been hitting extremely well the last two weeks and have to keep that confidence at the plate."
The Vulcans had a team batting average of .336 to finish third behind Slippery Rock (.346) and West Chester (.339) but led the conference in home runs (42) and stolen bases (75).
California features five of the conference's better hitters in second baseman Brian Stoecklein (.413), third baseman Jason Greene (.406), shortstop Lee Petersavage (.380), left fielder Mike Larson (.380) and right fielder Bryan Hartung (.355).
Besides leading the conference in hitting, Stoecklein set the pace in doubles (26), RBI (54) and total bases (132).
Hartung rewrote the school's home run records with 15 this season and 39 in his career.
Rounding out the starting cast are first baseman Justin Pifer, centerfielder Bernie Smith, catcher Jeff Lander and designated hitter Tim Donnelly.
Bob Saddler (6-3, 3.86 ERA), Nick Damico (4-3, 3.68 ERA), Scott Belcastro (4-2, 3.80 ERA) and Dennis Show (2-0 and three saves) head the pitching staff.
West Chester set a school record for wins and won the East for the first time since 1985 which was also the Golden Rams' last playoff appearance.
West Chester had to sweep a season-ending doubleheader from Kutztown by identical 4-3 scores to make the playoffs and rallying from a 3-0 deficit in the nightcap.
Matt Redcay (.404), Mike LaRosa (.378), Erik Ruff (.377) and Dan Newton (.374) are West Chester's top hitters.
Freshman lefty Michael Robinson (5-1, 1.29 ERA), sophomore righthander Jeff Brnnan (5-3, 282 ERA) and senior righthander Dan Gentekos (4-1, 3.53 ERA) head the Golden Rams' pitching staff.
CAL CLIPS: Hartung and Petersavage are the only starters back from last year's team which lost to Kutztown (2-1) and Mansfield (12-9) in last year's playoffs. Saddler and Damico pitched in the loss t Mansfield.