Point Park University Baseball -- 2013 Season Preview for NAIA No. 6 Pioneers
Feb. 20, 2013 at 3:00 p.m. ET
Point Park baseball head coach Loren Torres in a preseason interview Feb. 13, 2013.
PITTSBURGH -- The Point Park University baseball team begins the 2013 season with high hopes as it is ranked No. 6 in the NAIA Baseball Coaches' Preseason Top 25 Poll coming off last year's 53-11 overall record and fifth-place showing at the NAIA World Series in Lewiston, Idaho.
The Pioneers return a talented roster with nine of their 11 pitchers (4 of 5 starters) back from last year along with six of nine position starters back in the fold. Last year's team paved a strong path for the Pioneers to get back to the World Series for the first time since 1998, but as fourth-year head coach Loren Torres explains, 2013 is a new year, one that requires new history to be made.
Point Park opens its season Feb. 22 at Martin Methodist (Tenn.) for a doubleheader at 12 p.m. The Pioneers' opening weekend also includes trips to Talladega (Ala.) on Feb. 23 and Campbellsville (Ky.) on Feb. 24. Point Park visits WVU Tech on Feb. 26 before going on its annual spring break trip to Florida March 3-8.
"Last year, we paved a nice road," said Torres. "But we can't take that road. That path is closed and last year is done. We celebrated and enjoyed our success, but now we are ready to get back after it and make our own breaks and pave our own road with the 2013 team."
The Pioneers, who were picked by Baseball America to finish fifth in the NAIA, have their eye on making it back to Lewiston for the World Series and going even further in the tournament than they did before. Point Park went 2-2 in its World Series games and lost an eighth-inning lead that would have put it in the national semifinal round.
This year, Point Park feels it has the makings of a team that will be right there in the mix among the top teams in the NAIA. And if the Pioneers can achieve that status, they could have a chance to be one of the better teams in the long and successful tradition of Point Park baseball.
"Our goal is to stand tall at the final out," said Torres, Miami, Fla., native. "We talk about that all the time. We want to be the best team in Point Park history, and to do that, we have to stand tall at the final out at the World Series."
Point Park baseball has one of the best traditions in the NAIA. The Pioneers are tied for fourth all-time with 14 appearances in the NAIA World Series and twice finished as high as third at the World Series -- in 1979 and 1986. The all-time won-loss record of Point Park baseball is 1,158-628-9 (.647).
"Last year we believed, and this year we know," Torres said of his team's outlook. "With that comes responsibility, and we have to take that every seriously and get after it every day."
The Pioneers welcome back 16 of 24 letter winners from last year, and although just about all of the pitching staff is back, there are several newcomers who make the pitching even more talented and deeper.
In the field, Point Park plugged the few holes it had to fill and has a veteran squad of returnees. The Point Park roster of 28 players has 10 seniors, 10 juniors and only eight underclassman.
"I think we have a lot of talent on paper," Torres said. "And there's enough talent that we can have a good season based on that. But if we aren't out-hustled and not out-prepared, we can have a special season and go farther than our talent can take us alone."
POSITION BREAKDOWN: STARTING PITCHING
It makes sense to start with the pitching because that's where the Pioneers have the biggest strength. Point Park ranked ninth in the NAIA last year with a team ERA of 3.11 and returns three of the four pitchers who started in the NAIA World Series. Just like last year, the Pioneers figure to built around their pitching staff, which has a total of 14 arms.
"I always say that we will go as far as our pitching takes us, and this year will be no different," Torres said. "We have more depth and more talent on paper, but we have to get on the mound and compete. We have to be competitive strong before we are technique strong."
At the top of the rotation is senior right-hander Sean Clark (Titusville, Pa./Duquesne Univ.), who was 8-0 last year with a 2.69 ERA and is 15-2 in his two years with the Pioneers. He got the nod in the opening game of the World Series. Clark has been one of the top starters for the Pioneers the last two years since transferring from Duquesne.
Clark is joined on the staff by sophomore Nathan Sphon (Greensburg, Pa./West Chester Univ.), a left-hander whose outstanding freshman season included an 8-1 record and a 2.45 ERA. His only loss came to No. 2 Lee (Tenn.) in Lewiston. Sphon signed with NCAA DI Duquesne out of high school, but the Dukes cancelled their program.
Another returnee who started in the World Series is junior right-hander Manny Perdomo (Miami, Fla./St. Thomas Univ.), who was 7-0 with a 1.79 ERA that led Pioneers starters last season. Perdomo was an All-Dade County pitcher at Ronald Reagan HS and has some of the best stuff on the team.
Gone from last year is senior Derek Peluso (10-1, 2.90 ERA), the AMC Pitcher of the Year. But filling the void among the top starters is transfer Austin Pressly (Arcanum, Ohio/West Viriginia Univ.), a senior righty who was at WVU last year.
Drafted in the 23rd round of the 2009 MLB draft by the Brewers, Pressly is rated by Baseball America as the No. 8 overall prospect in the NAIA. Although he battled injury at WVU, he was 8-4 with a 2.86 ERA the two years before that at Sinclair (Ohio) Community College, where he was the Conference Pitcher of the Year.
The Pioneers have a stable of arms that can start, and that next group of starters will get a lot of non-conference work but also battle to break into the conference rotation. That group includes three-year starter Ryan Loutsenhizer (5-0 in '12), Josh Brooks (3-0 in '12), Ben Rodriguez (5-1 in '11) and James Monroe (3-3 in '11). Rodriguez and Monroe, although inactive last year, were key pitchers for the Pioneers' team that was 38-13 in 2011. Freshman Anthony Garofalo (Pittsburgh, Pa./Plum HS) is a left-handed freshman who will redshirt this year.
POSITION BREAKDOWN: BULLPEN
The bullpen is once again a strength even with the loss of the school's all-time saves leader, senior Mike Tullio (2.16 ERA, 15 SV). That's because the Pioneers have more arms to go to than last season.
Newcomers will be the biggest contibutors in the bullpen with the addition of right-handers Michael Cetta (Miami, Fla./Florida State Univ.) and Toby Eigner (Marathon, Fla./Southeastern (Iowa) CC) and lefty Bryan Lopez (Salinas, Puerto Rico/Iowa Lakes CC).
Cetta, an All-Dade County selection at Miami Palmetto HS, redshirted last year at Florida State. He is slotted as the Pioneers' closer but can also start. Eigner and Lopez each come in with two years of college-baseball experience and give the Pioneers a reliever from each side. Point Park also has redshirt freshman Ben Wiedemer (Pittsburgh, Pa./Central Catholic) as another left-handed option at their disposal.
Two returnees who will be in the long-relief role but may also see time as starters are junior right-handers Isaiah Marsh (Clear Brook, Va./Clearwater Chrisitian Coll.) and Jon Corcoran (Pittsburgh, Pa./Fox Chapel). Marsh made 12 appearances last year (4 as a starter) and had a 5.31 ERA. Corcoran was 1-0 with a 0.00 ERA in seven relief outings.
POSITION BREAKDOWN: OUTFIELD
Point Park returns its starting outfield intact and also has a fourth outfielder who will be the designated hitter. Team Offensive MVP Javy Marticorena (Miami, Fla./St. Thomas Univ.), who hit .384 with 7 HR and 34 RBIs the first 36 games, is back after missing the second half of last season with a knee injury.
Marticorena, the 2010 Florida 6A Player of the Year at American HS, will be in the lineup as the DH because the outfield that played in Lewiston is holding things down.
Team Co-MVP Rob Novia (North Port, Fla./North Port HS), a senior, is back in left field after hitting .340 with 42 RBIs and a .464 on-base average in 2012. He was on the All-AMC First Team as well.
Team Defensive MVP, senior Tom Pasinski (West Mifflin, Pa./PSU-Behrend) returns in center field. He was right behind Novia with a .339 batting average to go along with five triples and a .421 on-base average last year.
In right field is senior Don McDuffee (Champaign, Ill./Lake Land Coll.), who filled in for Marticorena the second half of last year to the tune of a .330 average, 24 RBIs and a .424 on-base percentage the last 30 games.
Defensively, the Pioneers should have a very good outfield with plenty of speed from Pasinski, McDuffee and Novia.
POSITION BREAKDOWN: INFIELD
Point Park lost three starters in the infield in 3B Lee Bodnar, SS Dillon Sauers and 1B Steve Dujka. With the exception of shortstop, the Pioneers have found replacements for those guys with returning players who were subs last year.
"One of the things that I am happiest about is that in the lineup, we have eight of nine hitters who are returning players on the roster," Torres said. "We're excited about that. Their experience and maturity there will allow us to have a good year at the plate and in the field.
The only infielder who is back as a starter is junior second baseman Tom Birko (Kennedy Twp., Pa./Montour HS), who hit .322 with 45 RBIs and a .433 on-base percentage in 2012. He is a two-year starter and led off for the Pioneers last year.
Moving from DH to first base is Marlon Leyva (Miami, Fla/St. Thomas Univ.), a senior who hit .313 with 29 RBIs in his first year at Point Park last season. Leyva takes up his position in the field to fill in for Steve Dujka (.261, 23 RBIs).
The biggest holes to fill are on the left side, where Bodnar (.335, 2 HR, 50 RBIs) and Sauers (.293, 28 RBIs) were. The shortstop will be newcomer Chaz Russo (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla./Clearwater Chrsitian Coll.), who has two years experience at Clearwater (Fla.) Christian, where he played a total of 65 games.
Battling at third base are a couple of returners -- junior Jonathan Tasis (Miami, Fla./Mater Academy) and senior Tyler Cattapan (Aurora, Ont./Hill (TX) College). Both players had good numbers as backups last year as Tasis hit .397 with 19 RBIs in only 63 at-bats, and Cattapan hit .238 with 10 RBIs and nine walks in only 34 plate appearances.
Other infielders battling for time will be newcomers Jordan Crowell (Milford, Ohio/Northwestern Ohio) and Austin Scotti (Pittsburgh, Pa./Temple (TX) College), both sophomores. Crowell hit .318 in his freshman year at UNOH last year, and Scotti hit .267 in 13 games at Temple (TX) College.
POSITION BREAKDOWN: CATCHERS
Behind the plate, Point Park returns 2012 starter Ossie Alfonzo (Miami, Fla./Miami-Dade Coll.), who hit .529 (9 for 17) with 8 RBIs in the NAIA World Series as the catcher on the All-Tournament Team. An outstanding backstop defensively, Alfonzo got his bat going the second half of last year and ended up hitting .275 with 41 RBIs. Alfonzo transferred to Point Park last season.
As the backup catcher and also an option as DH is newcomer Yale Sanford (Miami, Fla./SCAD (Ga.) Savannah). He comes from the dis-continued Savannah (Ga.) College of Art & Design program, where he spent his freshman season last year. Sanford got limited playing time there but was an All-Dade County performer at Miami Palmetto HS. Cattapan, who is in the mix to start at third, provides depth at catcher, as well.
POSITION BREAKDOWN: DEFENSE
"We have two new guys defensively at short and third," said Torres, "and I feel we are better defensively at those spots than we were last year. Everywhere else, we have returning guys and we feel good about them putting themselves where they need to be."
Point Park's defense ranked 55th in the NAIA last year with a fielding percentage of .956.
POSITION BREAKDOWN: COACHING STAFF
Head coach Loren Torres is in his fourth year at Point Park and has a 104-50 record at the school. In eight years as a college baseball head coach, which includes five years at NAIA Judson (Ill.) University from 2003-07, he has a record of 211-154-2 in his career. Coach Torres is in charge of all areas of the team but works mainly with the infielders and hitters.
Top assistant coach Rocky Capobianco (Point Park '08) is in his fifth year on the staff. He is the first-base coach and also in charge of the outfielders. Pitching coach Bryan Neal (Point Park '97) is in his fourth year in charge of a pitching staff that has been among the best in the NAIA. Assistant coach Ryan Streno (Point Park '09) is in his fourth year and mainly assists with the infielders.