Penn College Baseball Team Top Seed Entering Playoffs
Pennsylvania College of Technology's baseball team enters this weekend's Penn State University Athletic Conference playoffs as the defending champ, the top seed and it has a seasoned group of starters. But experience has taught coach Chris Howard that nothing is a sure thing.
"It's never a lock, and we proved that two years ago when we went in as the No. 1 seed. We went in overconfident and maybe a little arrogant and we were out in two games. Nothing is ever a lock," Howard recounted of his 2007 playoff experience that resulted in a fourth-place finish.
The Wildcats have had a phenomenal year thus far, going 16-6 in the fall and 16-1 this spring, including two eight-game win streaks. They own a 25-3 conference record and have several players among the PSUAC statistical leaders.
Penn College begins defense of its title at 11 a.m. Friday against No. 4 seed Penn State Abington (26-14 overall and 19-9 in the conference), which handed the Wildcats their lone loss of the spring. Second-seeded Penn State Brandywine (23-12, 21-5) takes on No. 3 Penn State Beaver (25-17, 19-9) in the other first-round game at 2 p.m. Friday. All games are being played on Medlar Field in University Park.
Action in the double-elimination tournament continues with games at 5 and 8 p.m. Friday and 1 and 4 p.m. Saturday. Should an extra game be needed to decide the champion, it will be played at 7 p.m. Saturday.
"We are ready. The guys are itching to get going. They are excited about defending the championship, and it helps to have the seniors and juniors who have been there before. I'm confident that we are ready to play," Howard said.
Reflecting briefly on the season, Howard said, "It's really been a combination of three things. We've pitched extremely well, we've played great defense and we've been hitting the ball. "¦ Everything has been working together. "¦ Everybody has stepped up and done their job."
In its loss to Penn State Abington on April 18, Wildcat pitchers gave up nine walks that proved costly.
"Abington always plays us tough. It doesn't matter what the records are, they always play us tough. You always have one of those teams that come out and you know it's going to be a dogfight, and Abington is that team," Howard said.
"It doesn't matter how good you are, you walk nine guys in a game and it's going to hurt," the coach continued.
The Wildcats rebounded to win the second game with ease against Abington, which started them on their current eight-game win streak.
Penn College's starting pitching rotation in the tournament is expected to be Mark Shaffer (Hanover) in the first game, Adam Thomke (South Williamsport) in the second and Harrison Myers (Elizabethtown) in the third. Shaffer is 8-2 on the season, Thomke 6-0 and Myers 5-1. Relief pitching, as needed, will come from Christian Worth (Williamsport), PJ Horn (Pittsburgh), Skylar Gingrich (Lititz) and Alex Gingerich (York).
James Craft (York) will open at catcher with Devon Liquori (Hawley) at first base, Garrett Hornung (Emporium) at second base, Phil Woodring (Waynesboro) at shortstop and Thomke at third base, when it isn't pitching. Playing the outfield will be Matt Mientus (Macungie) in left, Dane Glick (Belleview) in center and Justin Crowther (Bear, Del.) in right. Howard will pick from among Gingrich, Tom Hughes (Easton) and Joe Vassallo (Windsor, Conn.) for his designated hitter.
Liquori is the conference leader in batting average at .490, home runs with nine and runs batted in with 62. Woodring is tops in the PSUAC with 18 stolen bases.
Assessing the rest of the field and the tournament in general, Howard said, "It's playoff baseball. This is for a conference championship. You just don't see a lot of blowouts in these kinds of games. There is a lot of intensity, everybody is up and you can always count on a lot of close games. I wouldn't expect to see anybody running away with anything."
(Complete rosters and season schedules are available on the college's Athletics Web site. For more information on the PSUAC, visit on the Web; more about the USCAA also is available online. )