Expectations were very high for the Point Park baseball team after finishing last season in fifth place in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics World Series. However, after falling out of the top 25 and limping to a 9-11 start, things appeared grim.
“At the beginning of the year, the players almost felt that there was a sense of entitlement, with what we did last year,” head coach Loren Torres said in an exclusive interview. “They thought that they could get on the field and win just by that. It doesn’t work that way.”
From that point on, the team went 30-3 for the remainder of the season, and has earned a second consecutive berth in the NAIA Opening Round.
“We all took a step back to realize that just because you’re wearing the Point Park uniform doesn’t mean that you’re going to win,” Torres said. “You have to play ball, hustle, be mentally tough and have that spark. Once we got that back, I think that was the turning point in our season.”
What was the turning point for the Pioneers? According to Torres, it was the March 15-16 series against conference foe Brescia.
“They were in second at the time, one game behind us,” Torres said. “I knew then that we were team that we were last year and maybe even better.”
With their strong finish, Point Park finished atop the Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, earning the regular season title and the top seed for the conference tournament. There, the team won all three of its games, including the last two over Indiana University Southeast to win the conference.
Now ranked 19th in the NAIA, the Pioneers learned that for the second straight year, it had was seeded second in a region. This year, the team traveled six hours by bus to Kingsport, Tenn., as the location was the closest to the Pioneers, whose campus is located in downtown Pittsburgh.
“It’s ideal for us. Not only are we bussing it to Tennessee, but we also drew the lowest No. 1 seed,” Torres said. “We had an extra day to practice, otherwise we would have been traveling [Monday] and scrambling to find plane tickets, so I think it’s great that we’re getting on a bus and going to our spot.”
The team will first play Missouri Baptist, the third seed in the bracket and 20th overall, Thursday at 2:30 p.m ET.
“At this point every team is going to be very competitive,” Torres said. “They’re going to swing the bats really well. They’ve got some bigger guys that drive the ball, so we have to make sure to keep the ball down. They’ve got a couple of guys who can steal bags. They do have a guy who can throw low 90s and is undefeated for the year, so we’re probably going to see him.”
It was this spot last season that the Pioneers defeated Taylor (Ind.) en route to the World Series. Taylor is in the Pioneers’ bracket once again this year, seeded fourth. Also in the bracket is its top seed Tennessee Wesleyan, which won the NAIA World Series last year.
The Pioneers are getting it done offensively, however it has not been about the power numbers – senior Marlon Leyva leads the team with six home runs – but rather just getting on base. This is shown by their .344 team average which leads the NAIA. Seven different hitters are batting .300 or better while senior Rob Novia and sophomore Jordan Crowell are hitting .400 and .437, respectively.
“Our offense has really taken an identity,” Torres said. “They feed off each other and put a lot of pressure on the defense. Our strikeouts and fly balls are down, we’re hitting a lot of line drives and a lot of ground balls that skid through the infield. We’re really hot at the plate right now, so it doesn’t matter who we face, I know that we’re going to have a good offensive day. You have timely hitting and that’s where we have to see what happens.”
Winning the KIAC Tournament proved to be a good problem to have for the Pioneers. This is because the KIAC Tournament wrapped up on April 27 and it would be nearly two weeks until the NAIA Opening Round. Still the team did their best to make good use of their time off.
“We scheduled Cedarville, modified our intersquad, we hit live off a few pitchers that are bullpen guys,” Torres said. “We’re ready but I think from our end it does help to go from one tournament to the next, that’s easier. I think though, we’re just as ready as we were last year.”
Torres sees a “winnable bracket” and believes that while things need to be taken one game at a time, his team has all of the tools to advance to the NAIA World Series.
“We’re hot right now, we’ve won 30 of our last 33 games,” Torres said. “We’re pitching it well, playing good defense, we’re running the bases intelligently and aggressively and we’re hitting.
“Going into the tournament I couldn’t really ask for a better situation for us.”