College baseball: Pios open up regional play tonight

After the OAC Tournament did not go the way they had planned, the Marietta College Pioneers are hoping they can get back on track this week in the Division III Mideast Regional Tournament.

The second-seeded Etta Express (29-12) is scheduled to play seventh-seeded Penn State-Behrend (30-10) in the first round of the double-elimination regional tournament today at 7:45 p.m. All games will be played at the Rose- Institute of Technology in Terre, Ind.

The Lions, winners of the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference, present a difficult challenge.

Led by head coach Paul Benim, who was named AMCC Coach of the Year for the fifth time this season, the Lions had seven players earn all-conference honors.

“We’re pretty familiar with them,” said Marietta head coach Brian Brewer.

“They’re very well-coached. Paul Benim does a great job with them. They’re like us, in that they’re not really a long ball team. They’ll move guys over, steal bases, apply pressure, that kind of thing. They’ll be a good test for us, hopefully one that we’re up for.”

The Pioneers faced the Lions late last year during the regular season, a game that Marietta won 4-3 in the bottom of the ninth. The two teams were scheduled to play this season on April 21, but the game was postponed and never rescheduled.

Brewer is hoping his team can erase the memory of a disappointing OAC Tournament by getting a win over PSU-Behrend and avoiding the losers bracket.

“It would big, just to right the ship,” he said. “We really haven’t played well the last two weeks.

“It’s always a plus to win game one of any tournament.”

Ryan Jacobs is the pitching ace for the Lions, posting an 8-1 record and 1.37 earned run average en route to earning AMCC Pitcher of the Year honors.

The Lions have one of the top relief pitchers in D3 in Chad Zurat. Zurat tallied six saves this season and struck out 31 batters in 24 innings. He posted a 2.25 ERA and a .195 batting average allowed.

At the plate, PSU-Behrend saw Evan Bukowski (.308, 25 RBI), Vinny Rice (.382, 24 RBI) and Ryan Kragnes (.398, 44 runs, 25 stolen bases) earn first team all-conference honors.

The Pioneers will counter with nine all-league players of their own against the Lions, six being positions players and three off the mound.

MC showed plenty of offense in the OAC tourney, scoring 20 runs in three games (6.7 per game). Problem was, opposing teams scored 27 (9 per game) off the Pio pitching staff, a number that will have to go down for Marietta to have any chance in the regional.

It will all start with senior Mike Mulvey and freshman Jason Byers. Mulvey and Byers have anchored the pitching staff all year long. The right-handed Mulvey gave up just two earned runs in his start against John Carroll Saturday, but lasted just 4.1 innings due to a high pitch count. Byers, a southpaw, pitched in both losses against Otterbein, starting and going five innings in the first game and throwing 1.1 innings of relief in the second game. He allowed just one earned run in the tournament.

Senior Evan Brockmeier, who also plays first base/shortstop and bats second for the pinstripes, pitched 10.2 innings in the tourney and surrendered six earned runs. Brockmeier is capable of starting or coming out the bullpen.

Freshman lefty Mike Finlan is another option on the hill for Brewer’s club. Finlan started in the second game against Otterbein and lasted just two frames while allowing five earned runs.

The pitching struggles were somewhat of a surprise for MC, which posted a 3.76 staff ERA in 2013.

If Marietta’s arms can right the ship in the regional, it would immensely strengthen the team’s chances of making a third straight World Series appearance.

“It starts with pitching,” Brewer explained. “We’ve got to get quality starts out of our starters. We’ve also got to catch the ball behind them and play fast offensively, but it is all predicated by getting good starts out of our starters.”

Byers is the probable starter today against the Lions.

As far as the lineup goes, Brewer may have found a hidden gem in sophomore Chris Winpigler. Winpigler was named to the All-OAC Tournament team after going 6-9 with five runs scored, six RBI and a pair of homers out of the three-hole in the lineup in the final two games of the tourney. “C.J. (Winpigler) is our hottest offensive guy right now,” Brewer said. “We’ll stay with a similar lineup that we’ve been using.”

Winpigler’s classmate Mitch Geers also made the all-tournament team, collecting seven hits in 15 chances while scoring three runs and driving in four.

The Marietta offense will also be led by All-OAC performers Alex Toth (.403, 35 RBI this season, first team), Jordan Grilliot (.371, 4 HR, 33 RBI, first team), Aaron Hopper (.348, 3 HR, 40 RBI, first team), Bryan Gregorich (.333, 34 RBI, second team) and Brockmeier (.315, 19 RBI, 18 stolen bases, second team).

The winner between Marietta and PSU-Behrend will play either Wooster or Thomas More Thursday at 7:45 p.m. The losers of those games will play in an elimination game at 1:15 p.m. Thursday.