Pitching is backbone to Point Park's return to NAIA World Series

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A lawn mower speedily circled the outfield at Green Tree Park, delaying practice for the Point Park University baseball team.

Coach Loren Torres didn't mind. That's because it's late May and his 12th-ranked Pioneers still have reason to practice.

After winning the NAIA regional in Marion, Ind., earlier this month, Point Park is bound for Lewiston, Idaho, and the program's 11th NAIA World Series -- its first since 1998.

The Point Park program made 10 trips to the World Series in a 25-year span from 1974-98 -- finishing third in '79 and '86 -- but dropped off the NAIA baseball radar until Torres took over in 2010.

In his first season, Torres led the Pioneers to a 13-26 record, followed by a 38-13 mark and American Mideast Conference coach of the year honors last season.

But that wasn't good enough.

"Last year, we missed out on the opening round of the NAIA championship by one game and we were all sick about that for a good two weeks," junior starting pitcher Sean Clark said before the practice last week. "We made the World Series a goal of ours when we had our meetings at the end of the year.

"Slowly but surely, we're turning the program around."

It wasn't all that slow, either. Park Point cruised to a 51-9 record this season -- the 51 wins tying the school record set in 1986 -- on the backs of a pitching staff that boasted a combined 2.96 ERA.

"In the beginning, I told the guys that we'll go as far as our pitching takes us," Torres said.

He handed the ball to four starters -- Clark, Derek Peluso, Nate Spohn and Manny Perdomo -- who each posted an ERA below 2.55 and combined for a 31-1 record.

Despite returning three starters from a potent 2011 lineup that featured 13 of 14 hitters batting more than .300, the Pioneers posted a .319 team batting average this season. Third baseman Lee Bodner, one of the returning starters, led the offense with a .333 average, 2 home runs and a team-leading 47 RBIs.

Torres attributed the improvements in his three seasons to the early work put toward a clearly defined goal -- the World Series.

"The work you put in on the front end when no one's here always dictates what you're going to get out of your season," Torres said. "Once we reach a certain level of work, there was no returning. We did the things we needed to do to be successful."

"No one's going to out-prepare us and no one is going to outhustle us," junior left fielder Rob Novia said. "That's the driving force to why we're here."

A look at the roster reveals another one of Torres' keys to speedy success at Point Park -- a nationwide recruiting effort. Only 10 players on the 24-man roster are from Pennsylvania. One player hails from Arizona, another from Ontario.

Torres, originally from Puerto Rico, coached in Florida until 2001 before taking over at Judson University in the Chicago area from 2003-07. His widespread roots drew three recruits from Illinois and eight from Florida to his roster.

Junior center fielder Tom Pasinski credited the coaching staff's recruiting success with returning the program to national prominence.

"We're spread out from across the country and everyone's bringing a different mindset to the field," Pasinski said. "We've got great chemistry to our team."

Point Park, the seventh seed, will open the World Series against 10th seed College of Idaho (41-19) at noon Friday in Lewiston. Ten teams will participate in the seven-day, double-elimination tournament.

"The NAIA runs the best World Series outside of Omaha," Torres said, referring to the NCAA tournament. "There will be a lot of fans at the games -- 4,000 or 5,000 people -- and a lot of media. We have to stay focused and continue to be mentally tough."


Stephen J. Nesbitt: snesbitt@post-gazette.com, 412-263-2193 and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.


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