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Penn College Baseball Team Saves Its Best for Last

The Pennsylvania College of Technology baseball team saved its best for last as, during its first season in the North Eastern Athletic Conference, it claimed the conference championship and ended its season with an 18-18 overall record.

Going into the NEAC playoffs on Friday at Marcy, New York, coach Chris Howard said his fourth-seeded team hadn’t played its best yet. He noted that the team’s pitching and defense got it where it was, but knew that its bats would have to come alive in order to do more. And they did.

In Friday’s tournament opener, Penn College knocked off top-seeded SUNY Poly, 3-2, as pitcher Ryan Hostrander, of Williamsport, went the nine-inning distance, allowing six hits and one earned run while striking out six and walking just one in improving to 5-2. He closed out the game with a 1-2-3 ninth. Offensively for the Wildcats, Cole Weachock, of Pottsville, drove in the first run with a double in the first inning and scored the second run in the fourth inning on a sacrifice fly by Noah Esposito, of Williamsport. Penn College’s final run also came in the fourth on an RBI single by Deric Ellerman, of Landisburg.

On Saturday against second-seeded Penn State Abington, the Wildcats found themselves down 5-3 after four innings before they rallied for six runs in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings for a 9-5 win that propelled them into Sunday’s championship. Freshman pitcher Max Bair, of Centre Hall, relived starter Tyler Cooklin, of Rippey, Iowa, and threw 5 2/3 shutout innings while improving to 3-0. Bair struck out five and walked one. Leading the Penn College offense were Dylan Scaringi, of Coatesville, who went 2-for-3 at the plate including a first-inning triple that drove in two runs; Ellerman; Zach Weil, of Kutztown; Jeremy Rall, of Williamsport; and Weachock, who each had two hits and scored a run. Weachock’s triple in the seventh inning drove in two runs. Also on Saturday, third-seeded Penn State Berks eliminated top-seeded SUNY Poly, 8-6; and then eliminated Penn State Abington, 13-3.

In the title game Sunday morning, Penn College opened a 9-5 lead over third-seeded Penn State Berks after four innings and held on for a 9-7 win. During the game, the Wildcats pounded out 12 hits. An RBI single by Esposito gave Penn College its first run in the bottom of the second. The Wildcats scored three in the third on a two-run double by Weil and a run-scoring triple by Weachock, who afterward was named the tournament MVP. Berks answered with four runs in the top of the fourth, but Penn College responded with five runs in the bottom half of the inning. Key hits were RBI singles by Rall and Evan Vigna, of McAdoo. Its other three runs were unearned. Berks added single runs in the sixth and eighth innings to close out the scoring. Aaron Palmer, of Hanover, started the game on the mound and went 3 1/3 innings, allowing four hits and five runs. Nick Perna, of Frenchtown, New Jersey, picked up the win with three solid innings in relief and Hostrander earned his second save of the season after pitching a 1-2-3 ninth.

“The offense came alive and, as it has all year, the pitching and defense was really good,” Howard said. “It was the team that I knew we had offensively, but it also was the team that we had all year defensively and pitching(-wise).

“Hostrander was unbelievable in game one. … Max Bair came in and just shut them down in game two. He was unreal against Abington. And in the championship game, Palmer kept us in the game until we could get to Perna. And it was great seeing the bats finally wake up.

“The guys really stepped up. They were focused. They wanted so much to get that first NEAC championship for the school and they weren’t going to be denied,” Howard continued.

Key players the Wildcats will lose are Weil; James Simasek, of Landenberg; and Cooklin.

“It’s hard to replace those guys, but the younger guys coming back already are talking about repeating,” Howard said.

“It’s a great atmosphere we have right now. It has catapulted the whole program into something bigger than we had even hoped,” he added.

Assessing the team’s first season competing as a provisional member of NCAA Division III, Howard said, “I think, first and foremost, I learned that we certainly belong at the DIII level. We can play with anybody and we saw that in Myrtle Beach (South Carolina in March). We gave up a big lead to the 17th-ranked team in the country at the time. We played pretty well throughout the season,” he said.

“In our conference, the first thing that sticks out is that it’s a pretty evenly played conference. There’s not one team – and that’s one through eight – that stands out above someone else. … There were a lot of split doubleheaders that were going on and a lot of really tight scores,” continued the coach, whose career record with the Wildcats now is 212-115.

“This is a conference where you have to be ready to play every single game. Do we fit in and can we play? Absolutely! I think it shows, it is our first year in and we are in the conference tournament. I don’t think there is any question we belong here.”

Looking ahead, the key to success, Howard said, is “we have to be more effective offensively. It’s the little things – moving guys over, when we have guys on third base with less than two outs, we’ve got to get the bat on the ball and find a way to get the runner in. Every run counts.”

Penn College’s playoff appearance was its 13th in a row. It previously won Penn State University Athletic Conference titles in 2009, 2008 and 2006, the latter two under Howard.

The conference champ earns an automatic berth into the NCAA Division III tournament, but because Penn College is a provisional member it cannot go and Berks will represent the NEAC.

“That is a downer. It would have been great to have been able to go on and get the automatic bid to NCAA regionals, but we knew that going in. It wasn’t a surprise. We were singularly focused to go out and win the conference championship. That was our regionals, that was our World Series right there,” the coach said.

Also, during the week it was announced that senior Weil and Hostrander had been named to the NEAC first team and freshman Palmer to the second team. During the regular season, Weil finished second in the NEAC in home runs and was third in runs batted in. A catcher, he led the Wildcats with a .327 batting average and threw out 68 percent of base stealers. Hostrander was one of the top pitchers in the conference, ranking tied for second in wins (4), fourth in ERA (2.72) and No. 1 in strikeouts (60). Palmer had the best ERA in the conference with 1.87 in 33 innings, and finished 3-3 in nine appearances.

Final overall record: 18-18
Final NEAC regular-season record: 7-7
Friday, May 8 — NEAC Championships vs. SUNY Poly, W, 3-2
Saturday, May 9 – NEAC Championships vs. Penn State Abington, W, 9-5
Sunday, May 10 – NEAC Championship vs. Penn State Berks, W, 9-7

May 21-24 – at National Championships

No. 39

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