The Pennsylvania College of Technology baseball team already has achieved its fourth consecutive 20-plus win season, it now is 21-10 overall, but coach Chris Howard is hopeful of much more.
“We’re shooting to win a championship, not just a conference title, but we have hopes about going to nationals and winning that as well,” said Howard, in his eighth season.
“The 20 wins are great. It’s a testament to the guys who have worked so hard to do that but, really, that is kind of secondary in everybody’s mind. … Twenty wins, 30 wins, 40 wins, it doesn’t matter – we’re shooting for a championship. That’s what we’re singularly focused on right now,” the coach continued.
Penn College, 13-5 in the conference and seeded third, opens the Penn State University Athletic Conference playoffs at 11 a.m. Thursday against sixth-seeded Penn State Beaver (12-8 in the conference and 14-13 overall). Other teams and their seeds are No. 1 PSU Greater Allegheny (20-0, 30-9), No. 2 PSU Brandywine (15-6, 21-15), No. 4 Penn State York (11-7, 11-8) and No. 5 Penn State Schuylkill (12-8, 16-14). Games continue Friday and Saturday. The tournament is being hosted by Penn State Mont Alto.
Winning the first game is of utmost importance for the Wildcats: The loser is eliminated, as will be the loser of the York-Schuylkill encounter.
“Obviously, it’s not the position we wanted to put ourselves into, but we put ourselves in this position,” Howard said of the third seed that essentially makes Thursday a play-in game to reach the double-elimination portion of the tourney.
“Honestly, nothing has really changed. We still have to win ballgames. Whether we have to win four now, as opposed to three, we still have to win and that’s the attitude we are taking. … Playoff baseball is about winning. The mindset doesn’t change, you still have to win ballgames to move on and that’s what we are doing,” Howard said.
Five Penn College players are among the leaders in conference statistics as pitcher Josh Longsderff, of Columbia, is tops with six wins; pitcher Tim Cooklin, of Rippey, Iowa, is No. 1 in strikeouts with 63; brothers Zach and Cody Buterbaugh, both of Conestoga, are tied for the stolen-base lead with 19 each; Zach Buterbaugh also is No. 1 with four saves and No. 3 with a .449 batting average; and pitcher Nicholas Pupo, of Lewistown, is No. 5 with a 2.67 ERA. Also among the team leaders is Zach Weil, of Kutztown, who paces the Wildcats with four home runs and 33 runs batted in.
“They’ve obviously been huge. Tyler has been everything we had hoped he would be and he allowed us, as the No. 1 guy, to not rely so heavily on Josh all year and kept the innings down for Josh and kept his arm alive for this time of year,” Howard said.
“Zach and Cody really are what make this offense go. They are the guys who are getting on base all of the time, and Zach Weil has been the ultimate No. 4 hitter, with guys on he is hitting the ball hard … he’s really doing his job driving in runs. And his defense behind the plate – he’s the best catcher in this league, easily,” the coach praised.
“Pupo has been fantastic for us, he does a great job of throwing strikes, and another pitcher who has really stepped up is Chris Glunk, of Jersey Shore, who is somebody we are really going to rely on come postseason time,” Howard said.
“We’ve had some games that didn’t quite go the way we wanted them to, but I’ve never questioned the talent we have on the team; it’s just a matter of going out and putting it together. Playoff time has a way of bringing out the best in you and it never really hurts to have your backs up against the wall sometimes, sometimes that’s when the best comes out,” he continued.
“I told the guys: ‘Come playoff time, your fate is in your hands. It’s all about winning ballgames. You have control of everything now. It’s win and move on. If you win enough you’ve got a championship and if you lose you go home, so it’s pretty cut and dry,’” the coach added.