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Point Park is the first team left out of NAIA Opening Round at-large bids

Pioneers (38-13) land as #23 in final NAIA Baseball Coaches Top 25 Poll

May 8, 2011

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PITTSBURGH -- Point Park University landed as the #23 team in the country in the final NAIA Baseball Coaches Top 25 Poll for the 2011 season, but the Pioneers were the first team left out of the at-large bids to the national tournament handed out by the NAIA Sunday evening.
 
The NAIA office announced Sunday the 45 teams that will participate in the NAIA Opening Round, the regional playoff prior to the NAIA World Series. Of those 45 teams, 13 were of the at-large variety that did not win one of the 32 automatic bids awarded to conferences.
 
The at-large bids are handed out based on the final Top 25 poll. Starting from the top, the first 13 teams that do not have one of the automatic bids in hand receive at-large bid. As it turned out, Point Park came up one short.
 
The Pioneers were the 14th team waiting in line for an at-large bid, but #21 Northwood (Texas), which was too spots ahead of Point Park, received the final at-large invitation. Union (Tenn.) was at #22 just in front of the Pioneers, but it had an automatic bid as the TranSouth Athletic Conference champion.
 
Point Park lost in the finals of the American Mideast Conference Tournament, 4-3, to Mt. Vernon Nazarene on Friday at Pullman Park in Butler. It was a particularly frustrating loss for the Pioneers, as the winning run scored in controversial fashion on a play at the plate.
 
But Mt. Vernon Nazarene came away with the AMC championship and the conference's automatic bid to nationals that went with it.
 
Despite the loss to Mt. Vernon Nazarene in the conference finals, Point Park was still very much in the running for an at-large bid. The Pioneers were rated #23 in the nation last week after moving up two spots from the week before. Point Park held steady at #23 this week, but there weren't enough ranked teams that locked up automatic bids in their conference tournaments to allow the Pioneers to make it to nationals.
 
Juding from the 2010 NAIA Opening Round selections, the Pioneers seemed well-situated at #23. Last year, at-large bids dipped so far as to include four teams from the 'others receiving votes' section of the final poll. But this year's at-large invites only made it as far as #21 Northwood.
 
As it was, only five teams from the final NAIA Top 25 ranking won their conference postseason tournaments. That meant that many of the ranked teams ahead of Point Park occupied the at-large bids instead of getting in by way of an automatic invitation.
 
Another factor that conspired against Point Park was the fact that a couple of conferences had several ranked teams. Although the Southern States Athletic Conference and the Sooner Athletic Conference had six and four ranked teams, respectively, only two teams from each conference got in by way of an automatic selection. The SSAC took up four of the at-large bids and the SAC had two at-large invites.
 
For those watching the results of the conference tournaments on the weekend, just about every result that needed to go Point Park's way ended up going against the Pioneers. Cumberland (Tenn.), rated #5 in the country, lost in its conference finals Saturday as did #8 Union (Ky.). A win by either one of those teams would have allowed enough room for Point Park.
 
Likewise, #14 Missouri Baptist came up empty in its conference finals and had to use one of the at-large selections. And the team that took up the 13th-and-final at-large spot, #21 Northwood (Texas), had a chance to earn an automatic bid out of Red River Athletic Conference, but lost to Texas Brownsville in the conference semis. A trip to the finals in the RRAC earns a team an automatic bid out of that league, and UT-Brownsville would not have made it to the national tournament had it not beaten Northwood in that situation.
 
But despite the narrow miss at nationals, Point Park came a long way in a span of a year. The Pioneers, under second year head coach Loren Torres, engineered a 25-win improvement from last year. That increase is believed to be one of the best in NAIA.
 
Point Park was just 13-26 in 2010 and tied for last place in the AMC. Just a year later, the Pioneers had 25 more wins, an AMC Regular Season Championship at 14-6 AMC, their first national ranking since 1999 and a trip to the finals of the conference tournament.
 
Those mostly responsible for the turnaround were Point Park's senior veterans Dave Angle (C), Brian Grise (CF), Kyle Lucot (LF), Frank Marko (3B) and Bryce Pfeuffer (SS). Those players saw the program go from a bottom-feeder in the AMC to one that had a rightful place among the best teams in the country in the final NAIA Top 25 Poll.
 
Angle is a native of Pittsburgh who hit .324 with seven homers and 46 RBIs. Lucot, from South Park, Pa., hit .335 with 20 RBIs and a team-high 29 stolen bases. Grise ended the year at .320 with a team-best 57 runs to go along with 30 RBIs and 27 steals.
 
Marko, a Robinson Twp., Pa., native, hit a career-high .333 with 21 RBIs. Pfeuffer, from Robinson Twp., Pa., batted .315 with 37 RBIs and banged out a team-high 13 doubles. He also made only four errors from his middle-infield post.