GAME PREVIEW: Point Park (51-9) vs. College of Idaho (41-19) in NAIA World Series
Posted May 23 at 11:00 p.m. PT
Tom Birko and the Pioneers open the World Series May 25 in Lewiston, Idaho.
LEWISTON, Idaho – The Point Park University Pioneers arrived in Lewiston, Idaho, on Wednesday night, two days before they will open the NAIA World Series there versus the College of Idaho on Friday (May 25) at 9 a.m. PT.
The Pioneers (51-9) are seeded seventh in the 10-team bracket, and College of Idaho (41-19) is the No. 10 seed.
The winner moves on to face No. 2 seed Lee (Tenn.) on Saturday (May 26) at 3 p.m. PT. The loser will play an elimination game on Saturday at 12 p.m. PT versus the loser of No. 3 Oklahoma City (47-10) and No. 6 Lewis-Clark State (41-12).
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The matchup between Point Park and College of Idaho features two teams that are familiar with being in the NAIA World Series but are each ending a bit of a drought in making it there.
Point Park is back in the World Series for the 11th time in school history but the first time since it was there 14 years ago in 1998. College of Idaho is back for its fifth appearance but last made it 10 years ago in 2002.
College of Idaho does have something that Point Park does not – a national championship. The Coyotes won the NAIA World Series in 1998, ironically the last time Point Park was in the tournament.
College of Idaho’s 1998 championship started a strong run in which it reached the World Series four times in five years. That stretch also included a second-place finish in 1999 and a third-place showing in 2002.
Point Park’s best performance in the NAIA World Series includes placing third on two occasions – in 1979 and 1986. Despite the fact that the Pioneers are tied for fourth all-time with their 11 appearances, they have a chance this week to break through for their first national title.
HOW THEY GOT HERE
Point Park made the NAIA national tournament by earning the fourth of 16 at-large bids. The Pioneers got one of the first at-large bids handed out because they were ranked No. 12 in the Final NAIA Top 25 Poll May 6.
Point Park then went a perfect 3-0 in the Marion, Ind., bracket of the NAIA Opening Round May 10-12. The Pioneers were the No. 2 seed there.
College of Idaho received the 13th of 16 at-large bids to the NAIA national tournament by being in the ‘others receiving votes’ section and 28th overall in the Final Top 25 Poll.
The Coyotes came out of the Azusa, California, NAIA Opening Round bracket as the No. 3 seed. That included knocking off top seed and NAIA No. 4 Azusa Pacific, 7-6, with a run in the bottom of the ninth of the championship game.
ON POINT PARK
Point Park brings a team to Lewiston that is built on pitching. The Pioneers have a team ERA of 2.96, good for seventh in the country, and their starter’s ERA is even lower at 2.15.
Derek Peluso (9-1, 2.23 ERA) or Sean Clark (7-0, 2.55 ERA) will get the start in the first round versus the C of I. Both are right-handers who earned victories in the NAIA Opening Round.
The Point Park offense is not bad either as its 7.4 runs per game are 17th in the country. The Pioneers get on base well with a team on-base average of .431, and they have six players hitting over .316 in the starting lineup.
Second baseman Tom Birko (.343, 44 RBIs) has been very productive as the Pioneers’ leadoff hitter, and he led the Marion, Ind., tournament in batting average at .630. Third baseman Lee Bodnar (.333, 2 HR, 47 RBIs) is the No. 3 hitter and his hitting .413 since April 7. Center fielder Tom Pasinski (.351, 2 HR, 31 RBIs) has the highest batting average among the regulars.
ON COLLEGE OF IDAHO
College of Idaho was rated as high as No. 20 in the NAIA this year and finished second in its conference, the NAIA West. The Coyotes raised their game in the Azusa, Calif., tournament to make it to Lewiston as a bit of a surprise team.
C of I hits .313 as a team but caught fire in the NAIA Opening Round with a .340 team batting average there. On the mound, the Coyotes mainly carried by a couple of hot pitchers in the regional stage.
Of the Coyotes’ four games in the Azusa bracket, senior right-handed pitcher Todd Griffiths pitched two strong outings, and junior right-hander Taylor Nicholson pitched a strong game in the opener.
Nicholson, who is 9-2 with a 2.47 ERA in 11 starts, won the first game with an eight-inning performance and then picked up with victory in the title game over Azusa Pacific in a short relief outing.
Griffiths, who has just seven starts in his 24 appearances, improved to 4-1 with a 2.58 ERA. He tossed a five-hit, complete-game shutout in the second round and then came back on two days rest to pitch into the ninth inning of the championship game versus Azusa Pacific. Although he did get the win in the finals, he limited the No. 4 team in the country to three earned runs.
Offensively, the Coyotes have four hitters who are hitting over .373 with a lot of RBIs. The top hitter is outfielder Izaac Garsez at .396 with 19 doubles, 12 triples, eight homers and 52 RBIs in 59 games. Garsez, who is 29 for 36 in stolen bases, had an injured foot that relegated him to DH duties in the NAIA Opening Round and is expected to be available in the World Series.
Catcher Jarel Lewis is hitting .374 with 24 doubles, six homers and 56 RBIs. Other strong production comes from shortstop Tanner Hodges, who hits .373 with one home run and a team-high 66 RBIs.
Scouting Lee (Tenn.) -- With a win over College of Idaho, Point Park would face NAIA No. 2 and World Series No. 2 seed Lee (Tenn.) University. The Flames are 54-9-1 overall and are in Lewiston for the sixth year in a row. They have a bye in the first round. Lee has finished no less than third the last four seasons.
Lee has just 11 players returning last year’s team that finished third in the World Series, but a re-stocked roster that features 24 of 35 players who did not start their career at Lee has the Flames back in business.
Lee has a strong pitching staff that features a 2.56 team ERA. Right-hander Kris Hall (11-0, 1.52 ERA) is the No. 1 starter and has 115 strikeouts in 94.2 IP. Other strong starters are lefty Patrick Merkling (8-2, 2.15 ERA, 75.1 IP) and righty Vince Spiker (7-2, 2.67 ERA, 84.1 IP), both of whom were selected in the later rounds of the 2011 MLB draft but opted to come back to school.
The right side of the Flames’ infield has plenty of talent on offense as first baseman Roberto Reyes hits .311 with 19 doubles, 15 homers and 82 RBIs in 64 games. Second baseman Blake Barber hits a team-high .416 with 17 doubles, 9 homers and 62 RBIs.
Scouting Oklahoma City & Lewis-Clark St. – With a loss to College of Idaho, Point Park could face either No. 3 seed Oklahoma City (47-10) or No. 6 seed and host Lewis Clark State (41-12) in an elimination game. Those teams play a first-round game Friday night.
Oklahoma City is ranked No. 3 in the NAIA and is seeded third in Lewiston. The Stars rank second all time with 14 appearances in the World Series and have made the tournament for the ninth time in the last 11 years and the fifth time in a row.
A powerful Oklahoma City lineup ranks first in the NAIA in home runs per game (1.57), doubles per game (2.54) and slugging percentage (.597).
First baseman Miguel Beltran leads the power with a .395 average, 25 homers and 71 RBIs. Right fielder Dane Phillips (.423, 14 HR, 66 RBIs), shortstop Chris Munoz (.398, 11 HR, 43 RBI) and catcher Chad Carman (.391, 10 HR, 48 RBI) are other top hitters.
The pitching staff is led by Rich Hawkins (11-2, 1.95 ERA, 101.0 IP), Blake Schwartz (11-3, 3.55 ERA, 91 IP) and Cody Crabaugh (10-2, 3.70 ERA, 73 IP).
Lewis-Clark State has won 16 national titles and has once again earned the host berth, which included a bye in the NAIA Opening Round. LCSC is in the World Series for a record 31st time.
The Warriors have NAIA West Pitcher of the Year Michael Noteware (9-2, 2.03 ERA, 79.2 IP) at the top of their rotation. Anthony Armanino is also having a great year at 9-1 with a 2.10 ERA in 81.1 IP.
Lewis-Clark State is led offensively by third baseman Alfonso Casillas with a .372 average, 20 doubles, 10 homers and 62 RBIs. All of those numbers lead the team with the exception of batting average. Top hitting honors go to second baseman Trent Bridges at .396 with four home runs and 32 RBIs. Braxton Miller is hitting .314 with nine homers and 47 RBIs.
All 10 teams in the NAIA World Series have a full day of activities scheduled for Thursday (May 24). Each team will have 50-minute practice session at the tournament ballpark, Lewis-Clark State College’s Harris Field. There will also be a team photo session, community service with reading to elementary students and finally a pre-tournament banquet in the evening.